In recent years, the playoffs for the Dallas Mavericks were as much a lock as death and taxes.
For the past 12 seasons the NBA didn’t hold its annual postseason extravaganza without an entry from the Mavs. The only other team with a longer active streak is the San Antonio Spurs, who have advanced to the playoffs for the past 13 seasons.
The postseason has almost been a right of passage for two of Texas’ three NBA franchises.
“And that’s the frustrating part for all of us is that we’re not used to this existence,” Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations, said. “We’re used to playing and performing and winning at a much higher level.
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“And the fact that we’re literally fighting for our playoff lives is a fish out of water experience, and it’s one that none of us like. And it hurts.”
The Mavs (27-33) enter tonight’s 6:30 game against Detroit (23-40) at the Palace of Auburn Hills 4 1/2 games behind the Utah Jazz for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. So close, yet so far.
“This is an experience that’s not a comfortable one for any of us — players, management, coaches, fans,” Nelson said. “It’s not a position we’re used to being in.”
After failing to get a prime-time free agent last summer during free agency to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs brought in a hodge-podge of new players. For a variety of reasons, Nelson admits, it hasn’t worked to perfection.
“Obviously our execution and concentration and the pieces haven’t fit perfect,” Nelson said. “Those are all situations that we say all the time — things look great on paper, but really you’ve got to wait until it comes out of the oven to see what it really looks like.
“It’s been slow to take, and some of that are new faces, nine new faces, and some of that is Dirk being out for a good chunk of the season, which isn’t an excuse but it is a factor. Those are things that certainly add to the equation.”
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
Meanwhile, if the Mavs don’t kick into a higher gear, they’re going to finish with their first losing season since they were 40-42 in the 1999-’00 campaign, which was the last time they missed the playoffs.
“You wish certain things turned out better, but I’m not the type that agonizes over what’s already done,” owner Mark Cuban said. “I look forward to seeing what we can do going forward and try to be prepared.
“I think we have smart people, and if we can find more smart people, we’ll add them. It’s that simple.”
Cuban bought the Mavs from Ross Perot Jr. on Jan. 4, 2000. He has never missed the playoffs in any of the 12 seasons when his team was there for the opening-night bell.
In the face of all the Mavs’ inconsistent and erratic play, Nelson applauds the job turned in by coach Rick Carlisle, who led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA title.
“Rick’s done an amazing job pushing a lot of buttons,” Nelson said. “And he continues to do so to try to get ourselves into the playoff picture.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that are going to fight until the end. And those are the kind of teams that you want to go to war with on a nightly basis.”