CLEVELAND -- For the second night in a row, putting two quality halves together became a serious problem for the Dallas Mavericks.
After an efficient first half Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena when everything appeared to go their way, the Mavericks scored only 37 second-half points and lost a 15-point lead. By the time the dust settled, the Cleveland Cavaliers were celebrating a 91-88 victory before 17,443 fans.
It was the third consecutive loss for Mavericks (14-11). And if the playoffs started today, the defending NBA champs would be in the lottery and wouldn't be among the 16 teams chasing the title.
In Friday's home game against Indiana, the Mavericks led 53-52 at the half, but only scored 34 points in the second half in a 98-87 loss. Saturday, they were nursing a 51-43 lead at intermission before completely falling apart -- again.
"They wanted it more," said Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, who had only four points on 1-of-5 shooting. "Hustle plays. That sums it up. Turnovers and hustle plays."
The Cavaliers turned 21 Mavericks turnovers into 19 points and also turned 17 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points. In other words, the Mavericks got outhustled.
"We're doing some good things, but then we've got to do a better job of sustaining," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "And that's both ends of the court.
"They're an active team, they anticipated [passes], but we've got to do a better job with decision-making. Generally speaking, we're a low turnover team, but on a night when we did something that was atypical, we paid the price for it."
Dallas built a 40-25 lead with 7:47 left in the first half after a jumper by Dirk Nowitzki. But behind rookie Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and ex-Mavs forward Antawn Jamison, the Cavaliers (9-13) stormed back.
In the end, Dallas had two chances to force overtime. However, Jason Terry missed a 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left, and Brandan Wright's desperation three at the buzzer was well off the mark.
Wright finished with 11 points, eight boards and four blocks in 29 minutes. Most of those minutes normally go to Ian Mahinmi, who is healthy and did not play for the first time this season in what Carlisle called "a coach's decision."
Nowitzki was 9 of 15 from the field and scored 24 points to pass Elgin Baylor to become the 22nd leading scorer in NBA history. But that was bittersweet, since the Mavericks were just 6 of 19 from the field and scored only 13 points in a third quarter.
"Just another bad third quarter," Nowitzki said. "We talked about having bad efforts coming out of halftime, and that was another perfect example."
Cleveland scored 27 points in the third period and carried a 70-64 lead into the fourth quarter. The Mavericks, though, had chances, since they were still leading 86-83 with 3:41 remaining. But the Mavs missed their final five shots.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760