Saturday, April 3, 2010
Updated: April 8, 1:36 PM ET
Mavs evaporating down the stretch
By Jeff Caplan
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks continue to tell us that they are a veteran team that knows how to handle adversity. Perhaps, but after Saturday's dismantling by an impressive Oklahoma City Thunder outfit in a second consecutive home flop, the oldest team in the league forlornly voiced frustration, confusion and even a call for accountability from top to bottom.
"We all need to take this nice, little break that we have and figure out who we want to be," Jason Kidd said. "And that's sad to say with only five games left.
Maybe we're not as good as we think we are."
The Mavs won't play again until Wednesday, and they won't reconvene until Monday.
Forget about the 13-game win streak; that party is over. So is the trade honeymoon. As for that No. 2 seed that seemed so promising less than a week ago after purging Denver? It's up in smoke, too, if the Mavs continue to take a pass on playing defense and don't clean up an error-prone offense.
Don't let the final score -- Oklahoma City 121, Dallas 116 -- fool you into believing this was a competitive contest throughout. It wasn't from midway through the second quarter until midway through the fourth.
The Thunder led 108-89 with 6:41 to play. With nothing left to do, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle turned to desperation mode. He benched cold-shooting Jason Terry and replaced him with J.J. Barea and Eduardo Najera to work alongside Kidd, Caron Butler and Dirk Nowitzki.
Barea, who can never be sure when his next minutes will come, and Najera, who was questionable before the game with a bad back, supplied the energy that had been mysteriously nonexistent for long stretches for such a high-stakes game on the Mavs' home floor.
The fans booed repeatedly and then cheered wildly as that mishmash unit brought the score to as close as 113-109 with less than a minute to go. But Thunder backup guard Eric Maynor swished a 3-pointer to put the game on ice for the young renegades from north of the border.
"I love the way the group at the end of the game finished. Just balls out, absolutely full capacity, making things happen," Carlisle said. "That's what it's going to take for us to get where we want to go. We didn't have that for long-enough stretches."
Terry was yanked after going just 2-for-10 from the field. Presumably the only reason the slumping Butler (3-of-11, eight points) remained on the floor was to guard Kevin Durant because Shawn Marion left during the second quarter with a strained oblique muscle. For Terry, one of the league's most clutch late-game performers, the benching didn't sit well.
"Collectively as a unit, we've all got to play more consistently. Then also collectively, we've got to come up with some sort of plan of attack consistently. We're all across the board on everything we're doing out there, and our play is sporadic," Terry said. "It falls a lot on the players, but I think everybody is held accountable."
Asked whether his comment about "plan of attack" was a knock on the coaching staff's strategy, Terry said, "Plan of attack. Write what you want."
Kidd attempted to reason Terry's frustration.
"I think we're more frustrated with the way we've been playing as a team," Kidd said. "Some great individual performances have gone to waste in a sense. We got lucky in the Memphis game, and tonight we were in the same spot."
The dirty details since the 13-game win streak reveal a team that has been lax on defense and lacks consistent production from its big guns outside of Nowitzki and Kidd:
5-6 overall and 3-4 at home
Allowing 104.6 points a game
Allowed 50 percent or better shooting six times
Trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter in the past three games
Against the Thunder, Nowitzki scored 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting and Kidd had 13 of his 24 points in third quarter, but Barea (10 points) and Najera (11 points) were the only other Mavs players in double figures. Oklahoma City's Nick Collison (17 points) outscored Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood combined (13 points).
"You shoot 53 percent at home and outrebound the opponent [39-34], you figure you're going to win the game," Nowitzki said. "You can't lose back-to-back games at home a week or two weeks before the playoffs start. You just can't do it. Disappointing loss, but we're just not playing well enough right now."
The all-important seeding scenario is murky. The Mavs, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets all ended Saturday night tied at 50-27. The Thunder are just one game back in the loss column.
"The way we're playing," Nowitzki said, "we shouldn't be looking ahead at anything."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.