Lousy efforts have been too common

DENVER -- This looked like a lopsided loss the day the schedule was announced.

Teams just don't win in the Pepsi Center after playing the previous night on the West Coast. The Denver Nuggets have now won 22 of 23 games in which their opponents were faced with such scheduling circumstances.

Plus, the Dallas Mavericks were missing two starters, as Erick Dampier rested his bum left knee again and Shawn Marion's back tightened up just before tipoff.

So the Mavericks, who didn't get to their Denver hotel until about 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, simply fulfilled expectations by taking a 127-91 tail kicking. Hey, it's one of the only times the Mavs have fulfilled expectations since the calendar flipped to 2010.

The latest disaster, the Mavs' most lopsided loss since November 2001, doesn't merit much analysis. The Mavs looked like a team that left its legs in Oakland and had its mind on All-Star Weekend while being dominated by a Denver squad that dismissed them from the playoffs last season.

"Fortunately, it only counts as one loss," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Nights like this can feel like it's more."

Unfortunately, this loss would be a lot easier to shrug off if the Mavs hadn't played so much lousy, lazy basketball lately.

Thank goodness for the Golden State Warriors. That's the only team the Mavs have beaten in the past two weeks.

That 2-5 span included a pair of double-digit road losses to teams the Mavs consider their peers in the Western Conference playoff picture, the Utah Jazz and Denver. Much more embarrassing was the home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the West's worst team, which caused Carlisle to rip his players' poor effort.

Let's just say this team, which Mark Cuban touted as the most talented of his ownership tenure, doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt after this sort of debacle, regardless of the scheduling challenges.

Dallas is 10-11 since New Year's Eve, having played almost a month and a half of absolutely abysmal defense. This isn't a contender battling through a midseason slump. This is a squad that has been mediocre for more than a quarter of its season.

"It's amazing we still lead the Southwest Division," Dirk Nowitzki said after acknowledging that the 32-20 Mavs might not have been as good as their early-season record indicated. "We're still right there. That's still a great position to be in."

Perhaps, but the Mavs sure look like a team that needs a talent transfusion.

The on-the-record hope is that Josh Howard busts out of his season-long funk and looks like the guy who was an All-Star a few years ago, while Dampier's knee heals to allow him to anchor the defense again. The Mavs insist that, despite the bad basketball we've watched for the past six weeks, this team can emerge as a legitimate contender.

"The pieces to the puzzle are here," Jason Terry said. "It's a matter of us just re-energizing and realizing what everyone's role is and then maximizing each opportunity. Once we get to that, I think we're going to be a tough team."

Added Carlisle: "I like this team."

In the shadows, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson might be setting an NBA record for cell phone minutes used. He'll have a prime chance for face-to-face meetings with general managers when folks arrive in Dallas for All-Star Weekend.

Eight shopping days remain in the NBA trade market. If the Mavs don't make the most of them, the continuing mediocrity shouldn't catch folks by surprise.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.