DALLAS – Ugly games like what transpired Thursday night against the Phoenix Suns is what will make the Dallas Mavericks prime candidates to become a member of this year’s NBA Draft Lottery.
Phoenix came into American Airlines Center carrying the worst record in the Western Conference and prime candidates for the Mavs to continue an uptick in the standings. But the Suns left town with a surprising 102-95 victory, and also put so much weight on the Mavs that Dallas is now owners of the worst record in the West at 11-25.
The Suns thoroughly beat up the Mavs on the boards (53-31), and their guards ran roughshod over their counterparts from North Texas. In the end, the Mavs blew an opportunity to gain another step up the West standings.
"That’s kind of been the tale of the season for us,’’ guard Devin Harris said. "We take two steps forward and one step back.
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"We’ve just got to continue to work to get better.’’
Part of getting better comes with rebounding more efficiently. That surely was absent in the Mavs’ play against the Suns, with former Mavs center Tyson Chandler (18 rebounds) almost personally outrebounding Dallas’ entire starting lineup (20 rebounds).
"Not good,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said of the rebound comparison. "And that’s a big factor obviously in the game and the outcome, the number of possessions differential.
"You shot better (45.6 percent to 44.7 percent), but lose by seven. That’s one of the reasons. We’re going to have to do better.’’
The game was tied at 93-all after Deron Williams buried a 19-footer with 2:24 left. But the Suns finished the game on a 9-2 run, with Eric Bledsoe igniting the run by tallying seven straight points.
"Big time players show up in big time games, and I want to be a big time player,’’ said Bledsoe, who collected game highs of 26 points and seven assists. "So I have to show up in crunch time no matter how bad the game is going for me.
"The last couple of minutes is my time.’’
The Mavs had no answer for Bledsoe. Or for Suns guards Devin Booker (22 points) and Brandon Knight (17 points).
They just made plays,’’ Harris said of the 12-25 Suns. "They out the ball in their playmakers hands and at the end of the game they just made more plays than we did.’’
The Suns had a stunning 18-7 advantage on the offensive glass, with four of those coming from Chandler.
"They hang around and tip ball out (to teammates),’’ Harris said. "That’s what Tyson is known for and that’s what makes him so good -- he’s a force on the glass.
"We played a little bit smaller lineup tonight, especially to start the game. We just have to do a better job of keeping them off the boards.’’
Dirk Nowitzki, who started at center for the Mavs, finished the game with 13 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes. But center Andrew Bogut had no points, no rebounds and five fouls in 20 listless minutes.
"We just got to have everybody in there battling,’’ Nowitzki said. "If we go big, we got to rebound, if we go small, we got to have five guys in there scraping in there, push the ball, get our flow game going if we get the rebounds.’’
The Mavs also have to do a better job of locating their leading scorer, Harrison Barnes, and putting him in position to do something with the ball. In the first half Barnes led all scorers with 14 point son 7-of-9 shots, but in the second half he was just 1-of-4 form the field and tallied only five points.
In the meantime, the Mavs led by no more than five points and had all sorts of problems trying to separate themselves from the scrappy Suns.
"We’ve just got to sustain it for longer periods,’’ said Harris, who hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave the Mavs a 72-70 lead after three quarters. "We’ve had some success for short periods of time.
"But we haven’t been able to put the foot on the glass and get some separation. We’ve just got to continue to get better with that.’’
And the Mavs definitely need to do a better job at beating the NBA’s bottom feeders.
"I’m just trying to bring energy and speed up the game a little bit,’’ said Harris, who scored 12 points in 20 minutes. "I’m trying to play at our pace, but under control.
"We’re just trying to mix things up.’’