Slow start puts Dallas Mavericks in bad spot: 8th in West

MEMPHIS — For the Dallas Mavericks, the worst part about Saturday’s 94-89 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies is they can’t blame it on playing back-to-back games.

The Mavs lost at home Friday to Portland in overtime 99-97. But the Grizzlies walked into the NBA’s toughest arena — also on Friday — and spanked the big bad Miami Heat 97-82.

The victory by Memphis snapped Miami’s 17-game home winning streak, which was the longest by any team in the NBA this season. And by the time Memphis and Dallas both arrived in Memphis, their individual charters were arriving at approximately the same time.

Which begs the questions: With both teams receiving the same amount of sleep, why did the Mavs look old and tired while falling behind 26-6 with 1:05 left in the first period?

“We had a lot of fighters out there tonight,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “Going down the stretch here, that’s what it’s going to be about.

“Every game now is going to be of even more significant importance, and we know that.’’

Of course, the Mavs knew going into the Memphis game that every game is going to be of even more significant importance. But they certainly didn’t appear to come onto the FedEx Forum court with any sense of urgency.

“We dug ourselves a big hole,’’ said Shawn Marion, who had 12 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. “We couldn’t hit any shots.’’

The Mavs missed 13 of their first 14 shots and were only 2-of-15 from the field in the first period. That’s when the Mavs also committed six of their 17 turnovers.

“The turnovers killed us,’’ Marion said. “That’s how they were able to capitalize and that’s how they were able to win.’’

The setback was the third in four games for the Mavs, who are 31-26 and in eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race with nine games left. In other words, the Mavs are getting close to becoming the first defending NBA champions since the 1998-’99 Chicago Bulls not to make the playoffs the ensuing season.

More games like the one the Mavs played Saturday, and they will more than likely join the Bulls’ in basketball lore.

“The only thing we control is us,’’ said guard Jason Terry, who contributed 12 points and eight assists. “We have to win the games.

“This is two games now (in a row) that the opportunity was there. And it’s gone now.’’The Mavs did manage to fight back and inch within 63-62 late in the third period. And a Dirk Nowitzki bucket got Dallas within 90-85 with 3:35 to go in the game.

Memphis, however, made all the crucial plays and forced the Mavs into critical turnovers that led to Dallas losing for the 16th time in 27 road games this season.

“Turnovers definitely cost us,’’ Terry said. “The turnovers, once again tonight, were our demise.’’That, and the Mavs’ inability to come out in an aggressive frame of mind. Memphis got too many easy baskets, and thus the Mavs had to work extra hard just to get back in the game.

Afterward, Carlisle paid homage to the Grizzlies for winning two tough games in consecutive nights.“The Memphis team is playing very well,’’ Carlisle said. “They are very deep.

“They’re on a bit of a roll here. They’re a team that we are going to be chasing now.’’

The Mavs only trailed 50-39 at the half, and had to be feeling somewhat good about themselves at that juncture considering the awful start they endured.

“I just think we had misses,’’ Carlisle said of the first-quarter woes. “Some of the shots were good, a couple of them weren’t that good.

“At one point we were shooting under 10 percent, but guys kept battling. We defended and rebounded the whole game, which we had to do.’’

Now, if only the Mavs can start winning some of these significantly important games. That would help them in their quest of not wanting to be in the same class with the 1998-’99 Chicago Bulls.

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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