DALLAS — If the Dallas Mavericks have any designs on being a power player and moving up in the Western Conference standings, they need to stop playing like a Jekyll and Hyde team.The Mavericks can’t do what they did last week and expect anyone to take them seriously.In a span of 24 hours last week, the Mavericks suffered their worst loss of the season - falling 114-89 Tuesday at Charlotte - before handing the Eastern Conference leading-Pacers an 81-73 loss, just Indiana’s third at home this season.This inconsistency is why the Mavericks will remain a middle-of-the-pack team until further notice.A win over the Pacers counts as much as a win over the Bobcats. So treat the Bobcats like you treat the Pacers.Pound on the Bobcats with the same all-out aggression that you hammered the Pacers with.“Defensively we had a good outing there in Indiana and we had a horrible outing in Charlotte,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said after Monday’s practice. “So if we’re going to keep up-and-down, roller-coaster riding on defense, I think we’re going to keep winning, then losing some. “But if we get consistent a little bit on defense and rebounding, then I like our chances.”The Mavericks (32-22) are coming out of the All-Star break in sixth place in the Western Conference, a half-game in front of both the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.The three spots ahead of them are occupied by the Houston Rockets (36-17), Los Angeles Clippers (37-18) and Portland Trail Blazers (36-17).If the Mavericks want to climb any higher on the playoff ladder, they’ve got to put on their hard hats and go to work. That means rebounding must improve, turnovers need to be limited and defensive intensity has to pick up.Anything short of that and the Mavericks could be in danger of sliding backward and missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.Starting with a home game Tuesday night against the Miami Heat, the Mavericks need to show that they’ve got some fire in their bellies. They need to have American Airlines Center rocking, and they need to send a message to the two-time defending NBA champions reminding them of what happened in the 2011 Finals.The Heat is the perfect opponent for the Mavericks to start drawing lines in the sand, to start showing everyone what these final 28 regular-season games are going to be all about.The NBA is a game of hard knocks, and if you’re not ready to knock somebody down, well, commissioner Adam Silver has a spot for you.It’s called the Draft Lottery. The place where losers go to complain, and dream about the future.“We just got to stay committed to improving defensively and stay committed to rebounding, and we’ve gotten better in the last two or three weeks with that,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “When the ball’s in the air, it’s up for grabs for anybody.“And possession of the ball, particularly in a game like a Miami game, is really important because turnover ratio, offensive rebounding and possession of the ball is huge.”Other than this weekend’s road games against Eastern Conference bottom-feeders Philadelphia, Detroit and New York, the Mavericks don’t get any breathers from the schedule-maker. Then again, breathers are for losers.Back in 2011, everybody tried to avoid playing the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. But as it turned out, the Trail Blazers were the best thing that happened to the Mavericks during their championship run.The Mavericks survived an extremely tough challenge from the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, winning in six games. And that series more than adequately prepared the Mavericks for the next series, which they wound up sweeping against the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and ending Phil Jackson’s coaching career (for now).Playing quality teams usually keeps you more focused. Playing bad teams usually makes you want to stay in the mall and shop a little longer, because you think you’re going to have a softball-type game later that night.The Mavericks’ 28 remaining games are split evenly between teams with winning and losing records. Going 13-1 against the lesser teams and splitting against the better teams would get the Mavericks to 52 wins, a likely fourth seed in the West and homecourt advantage in the first playoff round.But the Mavericks have to avoid games similar to last week in Charlotte, what Nowitzki described as “a wasted night.”For this roller-coaster season to end happily, the Mavericks need less of those “wasted nights” and more signature wins like the one they pieced together less than 24 hours later in Indiana.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @dwainprice