Slow starts dogging, haunting Mavs

Slow starts are again plaguing the Dallas Mavericks for reasons that aren't exactly comprehensible at this late stage of the season.

The Mavs explained away a 32-14 deficit at Golden State Warriors on Wednesday as coming the night after a physical affair in the loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. But, Friday's 26-12 deficit at home to the San Antonio Spurs was more difficult to explain away.

"It shouldn't have been," Dirk Nowitzki said of the San Antonio slow start. "We had a day off [Thursday] and we weren’t as sharp in the beginning, but then we scramble and made some plays and we were back in it at halftime."

Yes, the Mavs trailed the Spurs by only five at halftime, but unlike their 112-106 win against the Warriors, who are in Dallas tonight for an early 6:30 p.m. tip, the Mavs couldn't rely on the Spurs to make mistakes and poor decisions in aiding a comeback win. The NBA's best team pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 97-91 win.

"I've been talking to you guys [media] a lot about the importance of good starts and how they carry over and we needed a better start [against the Spurs]," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We were having trouble finishing plays. We scrambled all night long. There were three or four plays in the first four or five minutes where we had a chance to secure a rebound or finish off a play and they just came in and knock it away or we have one hand on it and then somehow we would lose it out of bounds or something like that.

"Those are the types of plays that come back to haunt you because they are opportunities that you miss and to go down and score and set up the defense. That was frustrating."

The Mavs enter tonight's game having lost five of their last eight games and are now a full game behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 2 seed. The Oklahoma City Thunder are now on the Mavs' heels for the No. 3 seed.

Dallas has two soft opponents and time off ahead with the Warriors tonight and then the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday at home. Then it's off on a six-game road trip that very well could define this team heading into the postseason.

Constantly playing catchup is certainly not how they want to enter the most important season of all.