Commentary

Mavericks' shooting cold on the road

Defense has been solid, but defending champs are struggling to put points on the board

Updated: January 18, 2012, 12:06 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

LOS ANGELES -- As strange as this post-lockout basketball continues to be, at least, as Jason Kidd noted, the Dallas Mavericks are breaking records.

That the records are coming on the defensive end is a sign of building blocks for better results down the road. That's how the Mavs are looking at it -- must look at it, after something as ugly as Monday's 73-70 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers.

On Saturday night, Dallas set a franchise record by holding the Sacramento Kings to 23 points in the first half. The Mavs finished the job by giving up just 60 points for the game, an all-time low for Dallas' defense.

On Monday, a new low for a quarter was added to the Dallas record books. The Lakers scored seven points in the third period (and put up a single point in the final 6:58). That should have been a great thing, but the problem was that the Mavs led only by five, 51-46, heading into the fourth quarter against the mighty Kobe Bryant, who had been averaging a 3-ball under 46 all by himself in the previous four games.

Yes, the Mavs' defense is working just fine, suffocating even at times. Just ask Kobe, who got nothing easy as Shawn Marion once again showed that there might not be a better defender in the league against No. 24.

But Marion didn't get the payoff, only frustration. Here's a weird stat in this weird season in which Dallas is now 8-6 after seeing its five-game win streak go thud like a brick: Monday marked the second time that the Mavs have lost when holding an opponent below 40 percent shooting.

That's not easy to do.

L.A. shot 38.2 percent, on top of the seven-point third quarter and Kobe's clanking 15 of his 22 shots, most from a good distance away, to finish with 14 points (18 below his average).

The Lakers needed Derek Fisher's rainbow 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds left -- the dagger being that it was L.A.'s lone made 3 on 10 attempts, mind you -- just to avoid tying a franchise low for points scored.

And somehow, it was the Mavs who took the L.

"It's frustrating, especially since we should have won this," said Marion, who contributed to Dallas' 35 percent shooting misery by missing 7-of-10 shots and scoring seven points. "But it is what it is. We've got to learn from it and just get better."

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle applauded his team's effort and the determination that these grinding games demand. He continues to believe that defense will spring offense, but for whatever reason it's just not happening.

The Mavs took 80 shots and made 28. They were 4-of-26 from the 3-point line, with Kidd missing all eight of his from beyond the arc.

It's not like these were all hand-in-the-face shot attempts.

"It's a lot of basketball and you're going to have some games that are extremely ugly, and this is one of them," Kidd said. "We couldn't throw it in the Pacific and we still had a chance to win. That being said, we just got to stay focused and keep playing and stay together."

Dirk Nowitzki finished 8-of-17, no easy feat after missing his first six shots. Jason Terry was 3-of-10. Lamar Odom was the first sub off the bench and hit his first two shots, scoring seven in the first quarter to better his season average, but he missed eight of his next 10 shots.

The 70 points replaced the 71 points in the clunker at San Antonio as the new season low. At Minnesota, the Mavs topped out at 82. The constant is that all have come on the road.

This was the first of four roadies in six nights. Two tough ones lie ahead, a back-to-back at the Clippers on Wednesday and at the Utah Jazz on Thursday (another one that has grinder written all over it).

The Lakers game was supposed to feature two rested teams, or at least as rested as a day off between games will do for a team in this compacted schedule. Yet at one point during the first half when a timeout was called, it seemed both teams needed to call an additional 20-second TO just to get to the bench because they were moving so slowly.

"I said it earlier -- there are so many games, and we are a jump-shooting team," said Nowitzki, who had six points and three uncharacteristic turnovers in the fourth quarter. "All teams are going to eventually have games where just nothing seems to go, your legs are gone. You just have to fight through and find other ways to score; get to the basket, get to the foul line."

Nah, even that didn't work. Of the Mavs' 16 free throw attempts, only 10 went in.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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