DALLAS -- Lamar Odom tried to warn them. Now, the Dallas Mavericks are quickly learning for themselves the downside of being the defending NBA champions.
Odom, in his first year with the Mavericks after winning a pair of NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, said teams tend to find another gear or two whenever they're playing the defending champs. And in two games thus far this season, the Mavericks have discovered that the hard way.
On opening day Sunday, Miami drilled the Mavericks, leading by 35 before winning, 105-94. One day later, the Denver Nuggets ate up the Mavericks, leading by 33 before cruising to a 115-93 victory.
Two games. Two lackluster performances. Two blowout losses.
And the high-powered Oklahoma City Thunder are next on the Mavericks' schedule.
It might get worse for the Mavericks before it gets better; particularly because teams are expected to constantly hit the Mavericks with their best shot.
"These are good teams we're playing," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Every team we're playing is going to be a good team in some way and in some part just because we're the defending champions.
"You see this time and time again. The basketball gods, they tip in the way of the teams that come in these situations. Bank 3s, guys that don't normally hit [shots] are hitting shots. That's the kind of magical things that happen when teams have the opportunity to play a championship team."
Perhaps, but that's no excuse for the Mavericks not hustling back on defense and allowing uncontested fast-break dunk after uncontested fast-break dunk. That's what happened in the first two games, prompting Dirk Nowitzki to say: "We look old and slow and out of shape -- a bad combination."
The Mavericks need to find a way to reverse the ugly trend, especially with games coming fast and furious in this unforgiving 66-game season that involves 22 sets of back-to-back games.
"We've got to understand that this effort is going to come at us every night from everybody," Carlisle said. "They're going to be lined up. That's just how it goes."
Carlisle said lack of trust on defense has been one of the major culprits. The lack of a vocal leader -- one of Tyson Chandler's jobs last season -- could be running a close second.
"The biggest thing we've got to rebuild is trust defensively," Carlisle said. "We've lost some. We've lost a lot.
"I've got to do a better job coaching these guys. Conditioning is a factor, there's no question."
Carlisle acknowledged that if there is any pressure to get the Mavericks playing at the same high level that they reached during last season's run to the franchise's first NBA title, then this team is in good shape.
The Mavericks started the 2007-08 season 0-4 before winning 67 of their next 78 games and finishing with an NBA- and franchise-best 67-15 record.
"Pressure makes you better, so we're in a great situation right now," Carlisle said. "I'm surprised that we haven't played better, but I'm not surprised the way teams have come at us.
"That's going to be a fact of life. So we're all going to have to be ready for that."
The Mavericks were not ready for anything Sunday or Monday.
Chemistry was lacking, defensive pressure was nonexistent, and the thrill of winning last season's NBA title was gone.
"I'm the head coach and it's my job to make sure these guys are ready to play, and it's clear that they're not," Carlisle said. "Right now that's not something that's easy for me to say and it's not an easy thing to live with.
"I've got a lot of work to do."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760