A must-win so soon for Mavericks?

DALLAS -- Just eight games into the season and it has come to a piece of odd news for the Dallas Mavericks.

With an ugly three-game losing streak hanging over the team, point guard Darren Collison said that tonight's 7:30 game against the winless Washington Wizards at American Airlines Center is a "must-win" game. Who could have imagined such an eye-popping statement at this point in the season?

"Anybody in the NBA can win, so we're not going to overlook them," Collison said. "That's a very tough team as far I'm concerned and we really need to win that game.

"We've got to win this next game. It's a must-win game for us, for the simple fact that we did let some slip away from us."

Coach Rick Carlisle wasn't exactly jumping aboard that ship.

"We're going to have to play better," Carlisle said. "I never liked talking about results before they happen, but from a process standpoint there are areas where we can improve, and there are areas we can improve a great deal.

"The biggest ones right now are containing dribble penetration and rebounding. If we can get those two things shored up, it will certainly help our offensive game."

It's as if the Mavericks have been sleep-walking the last three games. They lost Friday in New York to the unbeaten Knicks 104-94, then followed up with a 101-97 overtime loss to a Charlotte Bobcats franchise they had never lost to (16-0 all-time).

For the hat trick, the Mavericks entertained the injury-riddled Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday and lost 90-82. Thus, with losses coming rapidly, Collison doesn't believe his team is in a position to look at the opponent on paper and automatically assume a win.

"Every team in the NBA is dangerous -- they're professionals for a reason," Collison said. "You saw Minnesota, they've been banged up ... and they outhustled us the last game.

"You're going to have highs and lows, so you've got to be able to bounce back strong. Hopefully we're going to bounce back strong against the Wizards."

Slow starts take toll

The Mavericks watched a lot of film Tuesday, and one thing to iron out is their slow starts.

From Nov. 3-7, Dallas scored 31, 31 and 36 points, respectively, in the first quarter of games against Charlotte, Portland and Toronto. But in the first quarter of the last three games against New York, Charlotte and Minnesota, the Mavs could produce but 23, 21 and 17 points, respectively.

No surprise, the Mavs won the first three games, and lost the latter three games.

"For one thing, on the offensive end we're not making the shots that we normally made in the last few games, and the result of all that is because we're being too stagnant," Darren Collison said. "We're not really moving the ball from side to side and making the defense move.

"And on the defensive end, we're just not buckled down and tied in like we need to be. We have the personnel to do it, we're capable of buckling down and getting some stops."

Marion out tonight

Forward Shawn Marion will miss his fifth consecutive game tonight as he recovers from a strained left medial collateral ligament. There is no timetable set for his return, but Rick Carlisle said "he's getting closer."

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice