Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks pay for lethargy with narrow loss

Mark this one down as yet another game the Dallas Mavericks will look back on with disdain.

On a night when Dirk Nowitzki became the 13th player in NBA history to score at least 26,000 career points, the Mavs left American Airlines Center frustrated again Wednesday night after a 117-115 loss to the Houston Rockets.

The loss dropped the Mavs to 26-21 on the season and 1-1 on this four-game homestand, which continues Friday against the Sacramento Kings. More important, the Mavs are still in eighth place in the Western Conference playoff picture, but have one more loss than ninth-seeded Memphis (23-20).

Afterward, it wasn’t the cold weather outside that gave coach Rick Carlisle the chills. It was the layup drill the Rockets had throughout the game, which Carlisle said led to him intentionally fouling center Dwight Howard.

“I don’t know how many times they blew by us, but I’m glad we started fouling Howard because I was starting to get the chills over there from all the blow-bys,’’ Carlisle said. “It saved our guys the embarrassment of getting blown by two or three times in a row.’’

Despite all those layups, the Mavs went on an 11-1 run to get within 117-115 of the Rockets. When Houston turned the ball over near its bench with 19.9 seconds remaining, the Mavs were in position to steal a victory.

Jose Calderon, however, missed a pair of 3-point shots in the final 4.9 seconds as the Mavs saw their home record drop to 15-8.

“Well, the first one was not anything,’’ Calderon said. “The second one was off the rebound and was kind of quick.

“The first one was a good look. They kind of double-teamed Dirk, yeah, but I couldn’t make it, so it happens sometimes.’’

Of the ill-fated comeback attempt, Carlisle said: “I didn’t think any of our guys were really playing hard until toward the end of the game.’’

Nowitzki finished with 38 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, shooting 13 of 21 from the field in 35 minutes. But there were times when Carlisle decided to sit him so as not to run up his minutes.

“But if he’s gassed and he’s at a point of exhaustion, what good is it to keep him in there if the next shot is going to be a really difficult shot,” Carlisle asked. “We’re not pulling him out for that long periods of time.

“I’m all for riding hot guys and that would be something that you could easily debate. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what works for Dirk, but I’m always open, I’m always studying it and I’m always trying to get better with it.”

Houston’s Jeremy Lin blew by the Mavericks’ guards for three layups in the fourth quarter. The last one put Houston up 116-104 with 3:10 left.

Then the Mavs woke up and decided to play. And they look as if they were going to duplicate what they did to the Rockets on Nov. 20, when they trailed Houston by 18 points and managed to rally and win 123-120.

But lightning didn’t strike twice in the same place. Samuel Dalembert’s getting two fouls less than two minutes into the game didn’t help the Mavs’ cause.

Monta Ellis (six points, five fouls, four turnovers) also was in constant foul trouble for the Mavs.

“We gave ourselves a chance, which was great,’’ Carlisle said. “But the first 46 minutes or whatever it was, were not good.’’

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