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Friday, February 5, 2010
Lack of effort sinking Mavericks lower

By Tim MacMahon

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks, losers of four of the last five games, have a long list of problems right now.

Two stand out above all the others: They aren't good enough and don't play hard enough. And there's no chicken-and-the-egg debate about those issues.

"We're not going to be good until we play hard," coach Rick Carlisle said after Friday night's 117-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Yep, the Western Conference's last-place team walked out of the American Airlines Center with a win. The Timberwolves improved their road record to 4-21, slamming the door in the Mavericks' faces with a 10-1 game-ending run after Dallas rallied from a double-digit deficit.

Owner Mark Cuban called it right the other night when he said his team sucks right now. And this establishes a new low.

There's no defense for this loss. Actually, there's no defense at all in Dallas these days.

The Timberwolves shot 53 percent from the floor -- 58 in the second half. That's a number that might be alarming if it hadn't been pretty much the norm for Mavericks opponents recently. The last six foes have made at least 49 percent of their field goal attempts, the primary reason the Mavericks have dropped to fourth place in the West standings.

"When we decide to play and we want to get some stops, I think we're capable," Dirk Nowitzki said of the Mavs, who had seven consecutive stops in the fourth quarter to pull even before fading. "We saw it in November and December. When we want to play some defense, we're good."

Is it too much to expect a veteran team that considers itself contenders to show effort on a consistent basis? Or even an occasional basis?

Imagine how frustrated Carlisle must be. He's stressed a commitment to defense above all else since the day the Mavs reported to training camp. He drilled into his players' heads that a defense held the key to a 50-win team taking the big step to becoming a legitimate challenger to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It worked for a couple of months. The Mavericks ranked among the league leaders in defensive efficiency at the end of December. Not coincidentally, they were second in the West at the time.

Since then, they've played defense that would have been substandard during Don Nelson's days in Dallas.

It's certainly not acceptable to Carlisle. The poor defense prompted the question of whether the Mavs aren't receiving Carlisle's messages anymore.

"We need to dig down and find some pride," Carlisle replied. "It's as simple as that."

If that doesn't happen soon, the Mavericks could find themselves watching the first round of the playoffs from home, their run of nine consecutive 50-win seasons going up in flames (or down in defensive shame).

Don't think that could happen? Look at the standings. They're a lot closer to the lottery -- and their pick is the New Jersey Nets' possession -- than the Lakers.

That's literally speaking. In a figurative sense, the Lakers couldn't be further away for a Mavs team mired in misery.

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