A pair of occurrences Wednesday night - one surprising, the other not so much - conspired to bring an official end to the Dallas Mavericks’ 12-year run of postseason play.
In American Airlines Center, the lowly Phoenix Suns handed the Mavericks a crushing 102-91 defeat before a stunned sellout crowd of 19,725.
With the loss, the Mavs slipped to 38-40 with four games left in the regular season. An hour later on the West Coast, the Los Angeles Lakers won in Portland 113-106 to put the last nail in the Mavericks’ playoff hopes.
The Suns entered Wednesday’s game with the third-worst record in the NBA and the worst record in the Western Conference. They also had dropped 10 consecutive games, including one Tuesday night that ended on a goaltending call against Suns center Jermaine O’Neal.
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But this one played out as if the Suns were fighting for a playoff berth instead of the Mavericks.
“We were just not good enough from start to finish,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was a decisive win for them, and we played poorly. Give them their due. They played a really good game.”
The Mavericks trailed 28-14 late in the first period and 85-71 with 9:39 remaining in the game. But Shawn Marion scored six points and Dirk Nowitzki buried a 16-footer as Dallas inched to within 93-89 with 2:03 left.
The undaunted Suns got a critical put-back basket and 3-point field goal from P.J. Tucker to vault ahead 98-89 with 1:01 remaining and leave the Mavs in a solemn mood.
This was the third time since March 28 when the Mavericks were one game under .500, but failed to win the next game to reach the .500 plateau for the first time since Dec. 12.
“I view this one game at a time,” Carlisle said. “I’ve been around this too long and been humbled too many times to be looking ahead or be thinking in terms of the mountain of getting to .500.
“That’s not what anybody is about around here. This was about winning one game and then getting ready for the next game. We had a disappointing night.”
Goran Dragic was a big headache for the Mavericks with his drives to the basket. Dragic finished with 21 points and 13 assists, while Jared Dudley scored 18 points, Wesley Johnson poured in 17 and Tucker collected 17 points and 10 boards. Luis Scola also chipped in 11 points and a season-high 15 rebounds, and O’Neal had seven blocks and six rebounds.
Shawn Marion paced the Mavericks with 22 points and nine boards, Nowitzki had 21 points and eight rebounds, and Vince Carter scored 18 points.
Dallas trailed 61-51 at the half, managed to tie it at 63-63, but watched as the Suns fired off 12 consecutive points to assume a 75-63 lead which they never relinquished.
“Our mind-set was good coming out of halftime,” Carlisle said. “We mounted a charge, we built it around good defense, but when they answered it we didn’t respond well.
“That’s this league. This is a league full of skilled players.”
The Mavericks found that out the hard way against a Suns’ team that left town with a 24-55 record.
“There’s going to be nights when guys like Tucker hit three out of four from [3-point range], and Johnson jumps up and hits a bunch of shots,” Carlisle said. “To absorb that you’ve got to have your mind-set right and you’ve got to be real tied together, and we just didn’t get it done.
“Dragic was the best player on the floor. He shredded us from the start of the game to the end. We’ve got four games left and we’ve got to stay in this thing and keep battling.”
After Wednesday morning’s shoot around, Carlisle warned everyone about the pesky Suns when he said: “Anybody around here who’s taking any games for granted this year is a [bleeping] idiot.”
After the game, forward Marion said: “I guess we just underestimated them tonight and they came in here and got a win.”
It was a surprisingly loss that has happened so many times to the Mavs, who last missed the playoffs during the 1999-2000 season.
“This is definitely a tough loss,” guard Mike James said. “You can’t give any team, regardless of their record, any confidence.
“They were hitting shots early, and even when we went on a run they were able to maintain the lead. It’s unfortunate, because we had a chance to do something good tonight and we’ve got to regroup and prepare ourselves for the next game and end this season on a good note.”
Elton Brand missed his fourth consecutive game for the Mavericks with a sore right calf.