The reality staring the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the face at Oracle Arena against the Golden State Warriors: Don't get it together tonight and they'll have lost to all four of the Western Conference's bottom-feeders since the All-Star break.
New Orleans, Phoenix and Sacramento have all taken care of the sinking Mavs during this brutal stretch of nine games in 12 days that finally comes to an end tonight against the Warriors. This is not the zip-and-zoom Warriors of the past under rookie coach Mark Jackson. They average less than 98 points a game. Although the Bay Area fans still rock the Oracle, the Warriors are only 9-10 there.
Should the Mavs win this one?
Perhaps under normal circumstances the answer would be a resounding yes. But these are anything but normal circumstances. The Mavs are playing their fifth game in six nights. They have lost seven of nine and six in a row on the road. Most important, Golden State hasn't played since Wednesday night and leading scorer Monta Ellis (22.0 ppg) had to be licking his chops watching the Kings guards dismantle the weary Mavs defense.
Tension seems to also be tugging at Dallas in different areas. Jason Terry was benched in the fourth quarter in Phoenix, and after the Sacramento loss he said things must change. Rodrigue Beaubois and coach Rick Carlisle seemed to have words as Beaubois sat down in the fourth quarter at Sacramento. The Mavs' top-ranked field-goal defense has dropped to fifth, and they've fallen out of the top five in scoring defense for the first time since early in the season.
That impressive 7-2 run Dallas had before the All-Star break is all but forgotten, and a third consecutive loss tonight could have the Mavs flying home sitting in eighth place in the West standings.
Records: Mavs (23-19); Warriors (15-21)
When: 9:30 p.m.
Where: Oracle Arena
Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Baylor's Ekpe Udoh, the dominant interior defender who guided the Bears to the Elite Eight two seasons ago, has taken over of late as the Warriors' starting center. In his four recent starts, Udoh is averaging 13.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. It's not certain if he'll face Mavs center Brendan Haywood or not. Haywood has missed the last three games with a sprained left ankle.
Key matchup: Monta Ellis vs. Shawn Marion
You don't expect Jason Kidd or Vince Carter to stick with the ultra-quick scoring machine, do you? In fact, how the Mavs deal with Ellis and Stephen Curry when they're on the floor together will be interesting to watch. Ellis went off for 48 points against Oklahoma City on Feb. 7. Since Delonte West has been out, Marion is used to the challenge of taking on smaller guards. This might be his most important assignment considering the Mavs' dire situation.
Injuries: Mavs – G Delonte West (fractured right ring finger) is out, C/PF Brandan Wright (concussion) is out, C Brendan Haywood (sprained left ankle) is questionable. Warriors – C Kwame Brown (chest) is out.
Up next: Washington Wizards at Mavs, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday