DALLAS -- From his vantage point on the bench, instead of coming out swinging, Vince Carter believes the Dallas Mavericks are in a strike-second mode.
In other words, the Mavs are trying to hit teams with their best shot way too long after opponents have already come out of the gate and seized control of the game. Such was the case again Monday night at American Airline Center as Minnesota busted out to a 23-13 lead less than 10 minutes into the game en route to cruising to a 90-82 victory.
Following a 4-1 start that energized a team with nine new players, suddenly the Mavs have now lost three straight and are 4-4 going into Wednesday’s home game against the Washington Wizards.
Carter, the Mavs’ 35-year old forward, said he and his teammates are exerting too much energy trying to play catch-up after digging themselves into an improbable early hole.
“It’s just important for us to have big starts, and we have to play desperate basketball every night,” said Carter, who contributed four points on 1-of-7 shooting against the Timberwolves. “We’re not one of the best teams - we have the ability to be - but we just have to play hard as a team.
“I think if we play 48 minutes of some gritty basketball, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s something we’ve done and we did at the beginning, and we understood what it takes. We just got to get back to it.”
The Mavs shot a frosty 36.3 percent from the field and were outrebounded 49-35 by a Timberwolves squad missing five of its rotation players, including starters Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, and key reserves Brandon Roy, J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger. Sure, the Mavs were without starters Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, but they’ll never use that as an excuse for laying an egg like this one on Military Appreciation Night.
“I just know I’ve got to coach these guys harder and keep getting them better,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We got carved up in the first half - our effort wasn’t where it needed to be.
“I thought we tried hard in the second half and the results were still not good. It’s tough right now - we’ve got to just keep at it.”
Carlisle wasn’t on the sidelines for the gory ending. Referee Jason Phillips ejected the Mavs’ coach with five minutes remaining when he received two quick technical fouls after Carlisle stormed onto the court and vehemently disagreed with one of Phillips’ calls.
Meanwhile, guard O.J. Mayo agreed that the starters need to come out more aggressively from the opening tip and stop relying so much on the bench to bail them out of trouble.
“As starters, we have to get off to better starts,” said Mayo, who had 18 points on 7-of-18 shooting. “That’s the second game in a row where we depended on our bench to give us a little energy and effort out there. As starters, we’ve got to take responsibility to come out with a little more energy and effort.”
The only time the Mavs led was at 5-3. Minnesota promptly went on a 20-8 tear to assume a 23-13 lead it would never give back.
“We just felt like we weren’t making shots today,” said Darren Collison, who led the Mavs with 21 points and five assists. “We weren’t making shots that we normally make.
“They played a solid game, but you know it’s pretty frustrating because when things don’t go your way there is always something you can do to win. We just didn’t pull it out.”
The worst part is the Mavs never really caused a big enough stir to make the Timberwolves shake in their sneakers.
A light tremor occurred when the Mavs got within 85-78 with 2:10 left. But Collison missed from close range on a pair of baskets, and Mayo had the ball poked away from him on a fast break attempt.
“We have to hit first, we have to come out aggressive early and hopefully we can sustain,” Collison said. “I think when we play catch up, it’s tough.
“I don’t think we are built that way. We are very capable and have a lot of competitors on our team, but we don’t want to put ourselves in that position.”
Minnesota led 25-17 after the first quarter, 45-39 at intermission and 66-58 after three periods. For the Mavs, they probably would have found it easier finding a needle in a haystack than trying to score points against Minnesota’s sticky defense.
“We’re giving up too much dribble penetration and we’re not rebounding enough,” Carlisle said. “That’s the thing that’s killing us.
“If we can get stops and rebounds, our offense will pick up.”
The 80 points were a season-low for the Mavs. It’s a by-product of the desperate mode the Mavs were in practically all night.
“We’ve got to compete for 48 minutes from the start,” Carter said. “We can’t wait until the last five minutes to kind of play that type of basketball like we did and gave ourselves a chance.
“We have to come ready to play at the jump ball. We can’t come and decide at the last couple of minutes to do so.”
Carter knows if the Mavs keep using that strategy, the losses will continue stacking up.
“We’re a veteran team, but we’re still a young team,” Carter said. “We’ve just got to learn.
“These losses hurt, but at the same time we need them and we need to learn from them.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760