If the Dallas Mavericks find a way to reach the playoffs, they obviously are going to have to do it the hard way.
With so much riding on every game and apparently on every possession, the Mavs blew another seemingly comfortable lead Thursday night and wound up dropping a 109-103 decision to the Los Angeles Clippers at American Airlines Center.
The Mavs are now 43-30 and headed in the wrong direction as far as the playoffs are concerned. In ninth place now, the Mavs are one-half game behind the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We’re trying to find a hot hand down the stretch, which is a struggle,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We struggled to get the ball in the stretch.
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“We had some uncharacteristically off shots, which were bad misses. But at the end of NBA games, it’s going to be harder to get good shots if you’re not stopping the other team. And when it came down to it, we didn’t get enough stops.”
When this record eight-game home-stand started six games ago, the Mavs saw it as an opportunity to move up in the Western Conference standings. Instead, the Mavs are just 3-3 on the homestand, which resumes Saturday against Sacramento and concludes Monday against the Golden State Warriors.
The problem for the Mavs on Thursday was what has hindered them all season — inability to hang onto a lead.
The Mavs tallied the first 10 points of the fourth quarter to open up a 91-81 lead. A few minutes later, a pair of free throws by Monta Ellis padded the Mavs’ lead to 93-82 with 8:40 remaining.
But the Clippers ended the game on a 12-2 run as the Mavs left the court with their heads hanging.
Blake Griffin’s basket tied the game at 101-101 with 1:16 left. Dirk Nowitzki then turned it over, and Griffin scored inside to put the Clippers ahead 103-101 with 33.5 seconds to go.
Ellis then misfired on a long jumper and Chris Paul (31 points, nine assists) drilled a pair of free throws with 12.6 seconds remaining to ice the game.
“We had some turnovers and we missed shots,” Carlisle said. “We just got to shake it off.”
Other than Paul, the Clippers got 18 points and 13 rebounds from Griffin, and 16 points and 15 rebounds form DeAndre Jordan.
Vince Carter led the Mavs with 23 points and Nowitzki scored 21.
The Mavs led 60-58 at the half, and the pace was seemingly in their favor.
The game had a few skirmishes, including a dust-up between Shawn Marion and Matt Barnes that drew double technical fouls.
It’s the third time in as many games this season that the Mavs have held a double-digit lead on the Clippers in the fourth quarter only to lose all three games.
This one was extremely hard for the Mavs to swallow after their bench outscored the Clippers bench 51-21. And after the Mavs snapped Griffin’s streak of scoring 20-plus points at 30 games in a row.
“We just haven’t done a good job, it’s as simple as that,” Carlisle said. “We got another shot at them next week, so we got to aim at that. But we’ve got games in the meantime and they’re all important, so we just got to shake this off and get ready for the next one.”