DALLAS — If the Dallas Mavericks still have designs on making the playoffs, they’re going to have to do it the hard way.
The really, really hard way. Like picking up the phone and calling in all of their security people for extra help.
In desperate need of a win, the Mavs went out Tuesday night and collapsed in front of their stunned fans, as the Milwaukee Bucks walked off the American Airlines Center court with a shocking 95-90 victory.
The loss dropped the Mavs to 25-31 and put them in a foul mood heading into the opener of a brutal three-game road trip, which starts Wednesday night in Memphis against an extremely talented Grizzlies team.
Dallas is five games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With 16 of their final 26 games against teams with a winning record, the Mavs must be seriously wondering whether they have enough gas in their tank to reach the playoffs for the 13th straight season.
Particularly after they just lost consecutive home games to a pair of teams — the Los Angeles Lakers and Bucks — who came in carrying sub-.500 records.
“I’m going to keep believing in these guys,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That’s not going to change, my enthusiasm is not going to change.
“What has to change is decision-making on the floor. I’ll keep perusing the whole thing.”
Carlisle may want to start with what happened to the Mavs after they got off to a brilliant 11-0 start just over three minutes into the first quarter. At that juncture, the Mavs were 5 of 6 from the field, and the Bucks were 0 of 6 with three turnovers.
It looked like a blowout was about to happen, and the Mavs were going to be able to play their regular players low minutes in preparation for Memphis.
But as they’ve done so many times this season, the Mavs couldn’t get out of their own way. Especially down the stretch — again — when they went from being up 88-83 with 3:12 left to being down by five after Ersan Ilyasova split a pair of free throws with 13.9 seconds left.
“It’s disappointing,” Carlisle said. “Basically our collective will has got to be stronger.”
It’s the second straight home game the Mavs have lost after getting a herculean performance from Dirk Nowitzki, who had his sixth career 20-20 game, finishing with 21 points and 20 rebounds.
“Some of the shots he hit were extremely difficult,” Carlisle said. “There’s always going to come to a point in the game where other guys around him are going to have to step up, they’re going to have to make simple plays and they’re going to have to knock down shots.”
Tuesday wasn’t one of those nights, as the Mavs committed seven of their 20 turnovers in the fourth quarter and basically gift-wrapped this game and handed it to the Bucks on a gold-plated platter.
“Yes, it is very disappointing not being bale to finish the game,” said Elton Brand, who collected 12 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. “Plus, it is a home loss and especially after Sunday’s loss it is very disappointing.
“We have to find a way to get stops and get points late in the game and not turn the ball over.”
Even when the Mavs got three offensive rebounds on one possession with the score tied 88-88, they couldn’t score because Larry Sanders, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds, stole the ball form Nowitzki.
Later, Monta Ellis buried a 19-footer, Vince Carter missed a 21-footer, and Ilyasova hit two free throws to give the Bucks a 94-90 lead with 17.1 seconds left. After that, Nowitzki misfired on a 3-pointer and the Bucks danced merrily off the court, leaving the Mavs to figure out what exactly had just happened.
“I think it’s the same old story,” said Shawn Marion, who scored 10 points. “This is one we should have had and it slipped through our fingers.”
Any more slippage of the fingers like this one, and the Mavs might as well kiss the playoffs goodbye.
“I’ll figure out what I’ve got to do,” Carlisle said. “Maybe I’ve got to sub a little differently.
“I don’t know, but whatever it is we’ve got another game in 22 hours and I’m fired up for that one.”