Commentary

Crazy loss has Mavs feeling snakebit

Rick Carlisle preaches patience as basketball gods continue to haunt Mavericks

Updated: April 17, 2012, 5:01 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

SALT LAKE CITY -- Three games into this one-of-a-kind season, after Kevin Durant threw in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to drop the Dallas Mavericks to 0-3, coach Rick Carlisle summoned the mercurial basketball gods to cut his squad some slack.

Now with four games to go after Monday's stunning, 123-121 triple-overtime loss in which the Utah Jazz, one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league, buried 12 of them, including the go-ahead dagger (the fifth from Devin Harris) in the 61st minute, Carlisle was left to shake his head in disbelief.

"It's just beyond me the kind of shots that teams are hitting against us this year," he said. "We're playing our ass off, but I tell you what, night after night we just got to hang in, we just got to hang in and keep guarding.

Terry They continued to hit tough shots all night long, but it's happened to us all season. It's a broken record. Teams are hitting some shots that just on a normal day I don't think those go in.

-- Mavs guard Jason Terry

"But it's something to see. It's something to see."

Jason Terry, ice-cold through three quarters when the Mavs trailed 71-62, only to heat up for 20 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and the three OTs, was left rubbing his eyes, too, after what he witnessed.

"They continued to hit tough shots all night long, but it's happened to us all season. It's a broken record," Terry said. "Teams are hitting some shots that just on a normal day I don't think those go in."

So does a team that thrived on close finishes a year ago, as if it was in its DNA to win those games, feel snakebitten now that it's on the opposite end of the ledger?

A season ago, the Mavs were 17-11 in games decided by five points or fewer. Now they're 10-13 and 7-7 in games decided by three points or fewer. It took four overtimes in the past 48 hours to add two more gut-punch losses.

Last-possession poise on offense has been elusive and big defensive stops that helped rack up 57 wins a season ago have been more futile than fruitful.

"Definitely feel like we've had some misfortune where in the past we've been the team to come out victorious," Terry said. "But, hey, we've got a lot of fight in us. If this doesn't get you ready for the playoffs nothing will."

As for the playoffs, after this 2-2 road trip, the Mavs have still yet to clinch a spot and slid down a spot to No. 7, just one loss better than Houston and Phoenix.

What the Mavs didn't want to talk about Monday night was the first three quarters when they shot 42 percent -- even with Dirk Nowitzki making 8 of 12 shots for 26 of the team's 62 points -- left Utah shooters open at the arc as the defense collapsed on inside threats Al Jefferson (28 points, 26 rebounds) and Paul Millsap (16 points, nine rebounds and six assists) and got beat up again on the boards.

They were more eager to focus on their late-game fight, battling back from an 81-72 deficit in the final five minutes to lead by two with 8.5 seconds to go, than they were about getting outscored 28-20 in the third quarter and 6-0 in the opening three minutes leading to a Dallas timeout.

And as unfortunate as some of the big shots that have felled the Mavs -- from Derek Fisher's and Chauncey Billups' consecutive bombs in L.A. and more recently Kyle Lowry's and Raymond Felton's 3-point barrages and Pau Gasol's two corner 3s in OT one day earlier -- was an unchecked Millsap slamming home Gordon Hayward's prayer in the final seconds of regulation to ruin the rally and send it to overtime.

"We weren't playing particularly well, but guys hung in," Carlisle said. "We looked dead in the water at the end of regulation and at the end of the first overtime and hung in and were able to put ourselves in a position to keep playing and that was big."

Carlisle again took the blame for a last-possession play gone badly in the second overtime. Terry missed a short jumper with 10.9 to go, but a Utah turnover gave it back Dallas with 5.6 to go. Out of the timeout, Nowitzki, who buried a tying 3 in the final seconds of the first OT and was mostly brilliant with 40 points in 53 minutes, threw the ball away.

"That play is on me," Carlisle said. "It just didn't work out and it's on the coach, so I take responsibility for that."

Carlisle can't, however, take the blame for everything that turned a possible 4-0 road trip into a split. He can't take all the blame for a 19-point lead at Golden State that got whittled down to three in the fourth quarter or a 24-point lead the next night at Portland that came dangerously close to a one-possession game in the final minutes.

He can't take all the blame for the inability to keep Andrew Bynum off the boards in Sunday's OT loss to the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers, or Millsap or Al Jefferson, who landed a career-best 26 rebounds.

With four games to go until the playoffs begin, maybe the basketball gods just want to crown a new champ. Or maybe they Mavs are snakebit. Or perhaps it's time for this veteran core to turn around such misfortune with the type of calm, cool precision that defined the champs of a year ago.

"A lot of teams have been hitting some incredible shots against us where you're just shaking your head," Nowitzki said. "Hey, it is what it is. If you're the champs then stuff the next year is going to go against you and you have to fight through it.

"We're not going to hang our heads now."

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