Mavericks hang recent woes on porous defense, especially in overtime

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Dallas Mavericks have met the enemy. And it's themselves.

When the Mavs rolled out of bed and looked in the mirror this morning, many of them probably saw someone who doesn't play enough hard-nosed defense. That key intangible is a rock-solid recipe for disaster, of which the Mavericks find themselves.

Dallas has been in position to win a lot of games, especially in overtime. But that nagging dose of kryptonite -- the Mavs' inability to play defense -- has been their downfall and might be the reason they don't make the playoffs this season.

"We can't guard anybody," forward Shawn Marion said. "Coach [Rick Carlisle] said it first: It's not at the offensive end, it's the defensive end.

"Some nights you can't control the ball going in and out, but you can control your defense. But when you can't guard anybody, you can't keep anybody in front of you and keep them from just beating you off the dribble, that sums it up."

The sum: The Mavs limped into Salt Lake City -- where they play the Utah Jazz at 8 tonight at Energy Solutions Arena -- lugging a dismal 13-21 record and losers in 11 of their last 13 games.

The shot-to-the-gut losses are wearing on Carlisle, who was extremely disappointed the Mavs blew an 11-point lead at home Saturday to New Orleans and wound up losing to the Hornets in overtime, 99-96. Afterward, the fifth-year coach said it felt like his team had hit rock bottom.

"No way to say anything else or to express it any other way," Carlisle said. "But as I always say, things like this come in waves.

"There will be more of these, and we've got to do a better job."

Center Elton Brand said he and his teammates need to decide what they want to get out of this season. Brand blamed the players for the struggles, which include an 0-7 record in overtime and eight losses by 20 or more points.

"These [coaches] are working tirelessly to put us in position to win, and it's us out there making those mistakes," Brand said. "It's the players turning the ball over.

"[The coaches are] doing a phenomenal job of keeping our heads up."

Marion was disgusted after the loss to the Hornets and said it was the worst he has felt since he joined the Mavs in 2009. But he's also trying to look at the bright side.

"It ain't over until the fat lady sings," Marion said. "But at the same time we've got to stay optimistic and stay positive and keep trying to make certain strides.

"That's the thing about the NBA, you can't dwell on one loss too long. Regardless of if it's two or three [losses] in a row, we've still got to come out and play the next night and come out there and lay it on the line."

The fat lady may not be singing, but she's certainly on stage and clearing her throat. That's how far the Mavs have been off-key this season while slip-sliding down the Western Conference ladder.

During the Mavs' last road trip to Washington and Miami, Carlisle even instituted a dress code for players on the team plane. Gone is the ultra casual look -- sweat suits and blue jeans -- until further notice.

"Everyone heard about the dress code and stuff like that," Brand said. "That's because [Carlisle] doesn't want us to be comfortable after a loss.

"We start winning, maybe we can put some sweats on."

The loss to the Hornets hit the Mavs hard because New Orleans is the second-worst team in the NBA. But the Mavs failed to hit several open shots in overtime, and they didn't defend well in the fourth period or in overtime.

"This is just a tough time," Carlisle said. "It's important that everybody sticks together and we got to fight through it.

"It's a tough period. We've got to hang in."

And play some defense.

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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