Somewhere about 10 weeks down the road, if the Dallas Mavericks don't advance to the playoffs, they may look back to Tuesday's game at the Rose Garden as to why they're in the NBA Draft Lottery.
Dominating Portland for most of the game and ahead by as much as 21 points early in the third period, the Mavs got careless with the basketball and wound up losing to the Trail Blazers in stunning fashion 106-104.
Seagoville native LaMarcus Aldridge nailed an 18-footer at the buzzer over the outstretched arms of Brandan Wright to give the Blazers the dramatic victory.
“We need every game we can get and we've got to circle the wagons and get ready for the next one,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. “Sitting around bellyaching isn't going to get us making the plays that we need to make.
“Little mistakes this (Portland) team capitalizes on because they have very skilled players.''
This certainly was not the way the Mavs (19-26) wanted to start a four-game road trip that resumes Thursday night at 9:30 in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.
The Mavs led 101-94 with 2:19 left and likely would have gotten out of the Pacific Northwest with a win if they could have simply protected the basketball. However, the Mavs committed four turnovers in the final 1:48 - three by O.J. Mayo - and flew to the Bay Area with some rather long faces.
Mayo's fifth and final turnover came with 1.5 seconds left when he was whistled for charging into Ronnie Price on the right baseline near the basket.
From there the Blazers called timeout, got the ball near midcourt and Aldridge proceeded to work the same magic that helped him earn his second straight All-Star berth.
In the meantime, Mayo, who finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, was lamenting those costly turnovers he had down the stretch.
“My blow, man,'' Mayo said. “Two (bleeping) turnovers.
“That one out-of-bounds play and that dribble on the baseline. You can't do that, but I'll take this one on the chin.''
Dallas was nursing a 101-96 lead when Mayo's inbound pass was stolen by Wesley Matthews with 55.9 seconds remaining. Matthews sprinted down court and made a pair of free throws after he was fouled by Vince Carter as Portland drew within 101-98 with 52.4 seconds to go.
Dirk Nowitzki, who scored a season-high 26 points, then misfired from 20 feet, leading to a 3-pointer by Nicolas Batum that tied the game at 101-101 with 28.9 ticks left.
Nowitzki put the Mavs ahead 104-101 with 11.9 seconds remaining when he nailed a 3-pointer. But Aldridge tied it with a step-back 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left, and then won it at the buzzer after Mayo's last turnover.
“Down the stretch we weren't very good,'' said Nowitzki, who converted 11 of 21 shots. “You can't give up a three, a three and a two to lose the game.
“Maybe we shouldn't have even been in that position. We were up (21) and had the game under control and basically gave the lead away in just a couple of minutes.''
Dallas had built a 69-48 lead with 8:37 left in the third period after a 15-footer by Mayo. But the Blazers (23-22) kept chipping away and chipping away until they used a 37-13 rally to move ahead 90-88 after a Mavs turnover and a fast break dunk by ex-Mavs guard Sasha Pavlovic.
All of that activity got the crowd back into the game and seemed to rattle the Mavs, who, after that, just couldn't get enough separation from the Blazers to salt the game away.
“I guess sometimes the difference between a good team and a bad team is a couple of possessions down the stretch,'' Nowitzki said. “For some reason we haven't been able to win those games consistently.
“Usually in this league you win some, you lose some. But for some reason, more times than not, we've been losing those games, so that's extra tough.''
It's extra tough, because the Mavs appear as though they just don't have that extra push it takes to get them over the hump when the game's on the line.
“We can't let Aldridge basically walk us in to 10 feet and just let him turn around and shoot with one second to go,'' Nowitzki said. “That's a mental mistake.
“If you make mistakes against good teams, especially on the road, you're going to get bit.''
Guarding Aldridge in a clutch situation was challenging for Wright.
“He made two of those - a step-back three and a turnaround shot,'' Wright said. “That's how it goes sometimes.
“That's the way our season has been going so far, but we've got to turn it around. We got a little sloppy as a team and we started throwing the ball around a little bit.''
The Mavs got 17 points and nine assists from Darren Collison, 12 points and nine boards from Shawn Marion and 10 points and three boards from rookie Bernard James, who started while Chris Kaman missed the game due to a concussion suffered in Monday's practice.
“We had several situations where we'd have chances to build a lead if we could finish off a play with a rebound, and there were too many times we couldn't do it,'' Carlisle said. “The turnovers cost us, we didn't make plays, we didn't hit enough shots and we didn't get enough stops.
“You have to give them credit, they made some phenomenal plays when they had to. It's just very disappointing.''