It may be tough for some of their fans to swallow, but it’s getting close to the point where mentioning the Dallas Mavericks and “playoffs” in the same sentence could be a thing of the past.
Especially the way the Mavs played in a high-stakes game against the Houston Rockets on Sunday night at the Toyota Center.
With some much on the line, all the Mavs did against the Rockets was bob and weave their way to a 136-103 loss. The outcome left coach Rick Carlisle and his players searching for adjectives to describe what had transpired.
“I thought we played well offensively in the first half, but we were still down,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who was held to just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting. “We gave up way too many points way too easy, and obviously in the third quarter they still scored at the same clip.
“If we’re not scoring on the one end on the high clip, then we’ve still got to get back and just find a way to buckle down and get some stops and get some people out of the lane. It was just a layup drill and wide open 3s, and yeah, it was embarrassing.’’
The loss dropped the Mavs to 26-33 and seriously crippled their playoffs chances. Houston, whom the Mavs host on Wednesday night, improved to 33-28 while scoring the most points the Mavs have allowed all season.
It’s a season where the Mavs are six games behind the Rockets, who own the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference, and six games ahead of the Sacramento Kings, who are in last place out West.
The Rockets were nursing a 64-61 lead at the half, then steamrolled the Mavs in the third period when they outscored Dallas 44-17. It’s the most points the Rockets have scored in a quarter this season, eclipsing the 42 points they had in the second period during a Dec. 8 game against the Mavs.
James Harden scored 14 of his 21 points in the third period, and Chandler Parsons added 11 of his career-high 32 points in the third quarter.
From the Mavs’ perspective, it was maddening the way the Rockets turned this game into a layup drill during one sequence, or a period in which they kept bombing away from beyond the 3-point arc.
The lackluster performance begs questions about whether the Mavs have what it takes to reach the playoffs for the 13th straight season.
“If you want to be in the playoffs we haven’t showed consistently we can win big games,” Nowitzki said. “It was a nice win in Brooklyn [on Friday], and we can’t follow it up with this performance.
“Not consistent enough even over one game. A decent half, a decent three quarters here and there, and one garbage quarter. It’s never consistent enough to really be a playoff threat.”
When asked about if it’s time to stop mentioning the Mavs and “playoffs” in the same sentence, Carlisle said: “I’m just looking at each game individually. I’m not the one that’s always talking about this.
“I understand what’s working for us, and that is staying in the present, concentrating on defense and efficient play and going out there and fighting hard. We fought hard in the first half, and in the third quarter we didn’t fight hard enough, and that was the difference in the game.”
Form the 2:25 mark of the second period when the Mavs led 59-55, until the 1:23 mark of the third period, the Rockets outscored the Mavs 51-16 to assume a massive 106-75 lead.
It was one of the worst 13 minutes and two seconds of the season for the Mavs.
“The third quarter was ugly and I don’t have a good explanation for it other than they picked up their game and we didn’t match it,” Carlisle said. “This is one of those situations where you’ve got to step up to the challenge and we just didn’t do it.”
Asked what happened in the third quarter, Vince Carter bristled and said: “You watched the game just like I did. Plain and simple.
“Turnovers. Our turnovers led to their easy shots, their easy 3s, layups, and the whole nine. You can’t play like that if we’re trying to make the playoffs.”
The Rockets scored more points in the third period (44) than the Mavs scored in the entire second half (42).
“We couldn’t get stops,” said O.J. Mayo, who scored a team-high 18 points. “They definitely kicked our [butt] tonight.
“We’re lucky to get to play the team that kicked our ass tonight on Wednesday. If you’re a competitor, you’ve got to bring it.’’