Barring a miracle, and a lot of help from a lot of other teams, the Dallas Mavericks will miss the playoffs this season for the first time since the 1999-2000 campaign.
The Los Angeles Lakers delivered a serious blow to the Mavs’ postseason chances when they rolled to a 101-81 victory late Tuesday night at the Staples Center behind a triple-double from Kobe Bryant and a huge rebounding advantage.
“It is a hit,” coach Rick Carlisle admitted. “It is a game we needed. We have eight more and we are going to have to get ready for the next one and shake this off.
“Right now that is where we are.”
Where the Mavs are is not a place they wanted to be after they left Dallas for the opener of a four-game road trip. Because they failed to come close to out-working the Lakers on the boards, the Mavs are now 36-38 and two-and-a-half games behind the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
The Mavs are also two games behind the Utah Jazz, and lost the season series to both the Lakers and Jazz. That is the first tie-breaker in case the Mavs ended the season tied with either.
But the Mavs seemed resigned to the fact that none of that will happen unless they run the table and win their last eight games, plus get some major help from other teams playing the Lakers and Jazz.
“We knew we were behind the eight ball all season, so we were battling and battling back,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who finished with just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. “To think that we were going to win them all down the stretch is tough, but this is a game we needed to have if we really wanted to make it interesting.
“It’s a tough loss.”
The Mavs made it tough because they didn’t compete on the boards with the Lakers. On a night the Lakers retired Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey in a halftime ceremony, the Lakers won the rebounding battle by a 57-37 margin, including a 19-8 edge on the offensive glass.
“That is really the game,” Carlisle said. “You allow 19 offensive rebounds and I don’t know what the second chance points were, but whatever it was it was too many.
“That was a huge problem, and when we got close it became a problem again because we got it to five, they went to the free throw line and made one, missed the second one, then got it back and hit the three. So the rebounding has got to be better.”
Carlisle was referring to the third period when the Lakers raced to a 63-47 lead, only to see the Mavs run off 11 consecutive points to pull within 63-58 with 3:05 left in the quarter.
But forward Earl Clark scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, and was fouled on the play. Clark missed the rebound, which was grabbed by Pau Gasol, and Clark wound up firing in a three-pointer.
Following a missed 15-footer by Elton Brand, Clark found Antawn Jamison inside for a layup as the Lakers went on a quick 7-0 run in only 41 seconds to establish a 70-58 lead.
“At one point we were OK, and then the next point it seemed like we were right there, and then we turn around and we’d be down 10 again,” Marion said. “It’s frustrating. They wanted it more than us, and it showed.”
The Lakers narrowly won the battle for second chance points, 19-16. They also won every other major statistical category in a game that left the Mavs off-balance going into Thursday’s game at Denver.
“It was a great game for the most part and then it got away from us a little bit in the beginning,” said Marion, who had nine points and seven boards. “We were able to get back into it, and then it seemed like we couldn’t get back over that hump.
“Their size and extra passes killed us. Our reactions were real slow tonight, and we couldn’t get a beat on it.”
Four Lakers posted double-digit rebounds. Dwight Howard finished with 24 points and 12 boards, Clark had 17 points and 12 rebounds, Gasol collected 14 points and 10 boards, and Bryant had a triple-double – 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
The Mavs inched within 85-78 with 4:33 left. A short time later, they started intentionally fouling Howard, and he proceeded to go 7-of-10 from the line.
At one point, Howard hit five straight free throws down the stretch while Nowitzki missed two in a row. It was that kind of night for the Mavs.
“We had our moments where we let them take advantage of us,” said Vince Carter, who collected 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. “The second chance points, I think that’s what really hurt us.
“When you play against them, you have to share the ball and get them moving. When we did that, we got ourselves back in the game, but it just wasn’t enough.”
It wasn’t enough because Bryant refused to let the Lakers lose.
“I still thought we battled all night even though we didn’t play well,” Nowitzki said. “We didn’t play well enough.
“They used their length on our scorers. I thought they had too many offensive rebounds all game, Clark hurt us some when we doubled Dwight (Howard) or Pau (Gasol) or Kobe (Bryant), but coming into this building, I thought the only way we beat them is if we shoot well from the floor.”
The Mavs shot just 42 percent from the field, but just couldn’t out-muscle the Lakers on the boards. Now, their playoffs chances are in serious jeopardy.
“We’re going to keep on fighting,” Nowitzki said. “This team has a lot of pride left and I think it showed tonight how we battled back, even though it wasn’t our night.
“So we’re going to do the same thing in Denver and see what happens.”