SACRAMENTO -- The Dallas Mavericks sure do not look like a playoff team.
They won’t be unless things change drastically down the stretch of the regular season.
The Mavs continued their miserable March with a mail-it-in 133-111 loss on Sunday to the lottery-bound Sacramento Kings. That makes 10 defeats in the past 12 games for Dallas, which has dropped out of the West playoff picture, a half-game behind the eighth-place Houston Rockets.
The Mavs have allowed an average of 113.2 points per game during their disastrous dozen-game stretch. To put in perspective just how horrible that is, the Kings allow the most points in the NBA this season, with an average of 109.
It has reached the point where motivation, or lack thereof, is a subject of discussion in the Dallas locker room.
“We’ve got to decide if we want to go home after the last game [of the regular season] or not,” shooting guard Wesley Matthews said. “Everybody’s got to look in the mirror and decide what the hell they want to do. Do we want to play for something or do we not? Do we want to waste six, seven months of our lives just being NBA players and another season and blah, blah, blah or do we want to do something that’s meaningful?
“Do we want to take a run? Anything can happen in the postseason. Do we want to lay everything out on the line every single night nine more times and let the chips fall or do we want to go to Travelocity?”
The Mavs might not have much choice in the matter of when they start their summer vacation.
To put it politely, this team just isn’t very good, as the Mavs’ 35-38 record reflects. Dallas was considered a playoff long shot by many prognosticators ever since DeAndre Jordan stopped returning Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s texts and phone calls.
After Jordan changed his mind in free agency, the Mavs knew they’d have to overcome major personnel problems to make the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 years. They managed to stay in the West playoff pack for most of the season, in part because the conference has become top heavy and the competition for the final few spots isn’t nearly as tough as it’s been in recent seasons.
But the hole in the middle has been a major issue in Dallas’ decline.
At this point, the Mavs are scrambling for solutions at center. Salah Mejri has started the past three games, but the 29-year-old rookie picked up two fouls in the first 110 seconds trying to guard DeMarcus Cousins and didn’t set foot on the floor again until garbage time. Zaza Pachulia, who was such a critical part of the Mavs’ solid start, has struggled for the past couple of months. Coach Rick Carlisle is so desperate that he didn’t just give JaVale McGee minutes for the first time since the All-Star break Sunday; McGee started the second half.
And the Mavs have been dealt a couple of cruel blows this month with two of their most productive players. They lost forward Chandler Parsons, their most dangerous offensive weapon not named Dirk Nowitzki, for the season due to a torn meniscus that required surgery on his right knee. Deron Williams, the Mavs’ second-leading scorer for the season, is out for an undetermined period of time due to an abdominal strain that led to the point guard being sent home in the middle of this four-game road trip.
“It’s tough, but there’s no excuses ever made in this league,” Nowitzki said. “Whoever’s out there has got to do their part and play their role and play up to their potential and compete on both ends of the floor. We’ll live with the result.”
The Mavs can’t live with the result of getting blown out by a bad team. (Half of the Kings’ four wins this month have come at the Mavs’ expense.)
It’s one thing to get lit up by the Golden State Warriors, which has happened twice to the Mavs in March. It’s just a flat-out embarrassment to have such a defensive debacle against a Sacramento squad whose source of motivation on Sunday, as point guard Rajon Rondo put it, was to make sure the Mavs “get their plane ticket as soon as we get ours.”
The Kings shot 62.2 percent from the floor, which looks like a number from a morning shootaround. Sacramento scored 68 points in the paint. It’s a matter of bad Mavs defense getting worse.
“It’s pride. It’s all pride, man,” Matthews said. “Keep your guy in front of you. Everybody talk early. Everybody get back on defense. Everybody bump a cutter. It’s everybody. Everybody -- me included. We’ve all got to do better. It’s a pride thing.”
That doesn’t sound like a team fighting for its playoff life. And the Mavs don’t look like one, either.