DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks have acquired a bad habit of not being able to finish whatever they start.
That nasty habit occurred again during Wednesday night’s 116-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As the American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 19,805 roared when the Mavs rallied from a 12-point deficit to mount a 74-71 lead midway through the third quarter, Dallas was in position to score their second legitimate signature win of the season. Unfortunately for the Mavs, their shots stopped finding their intended destinations, and their defense kept slip-sliding the way it has for the majority of this season.
It all added up to the Mavs losing for the sixth time in their last eight games while also suffering a 4-0 swept this season to the Thunder. In addition, the loss dropped the Mavs to 30-28 and into seventh place in the Western Conference standings behind Portland, who owns a 30-27 record.
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As a whole, the Mavs have gotten themselves in a corner where they may have to play their best basketball of the season just to make the playoffs.
"I don’t look at the standings that much,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "I’m looking at how we’re playing.
"I didn’t like the way we played in the first and the fourth quarters tonight.’’
Utah (28-28) is seeded eighth out West, and Houston (28-29) is in the ninth spot. The Mavs still have a home game left against the Rockets and make their lone appearance in Salt Lake City this year in the next-to-last game of the season.
"The West is always tight, and we lost a big one against Utah before the (All-Star) break,’’ forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "They've been playing incredible.
"Portland has been on an incredible run.’’
In the locker room after the Mavs dropped to 16-12 at home, guard Wesley Matthews was not at a loss for words on why the Mavs haven’t been able to make any incredible runs themselves lately.
"We have to finish games,’’ Matthews said. "We had some momentum going into the half, but they just beat us in the third quarter.
"We took the lead and had a little slippage and that seems to be the trend for us this season.’’
The trend took on a whole new meaning Wednesday as the Mavs missed 19 of 22 shots – including 14 in a row -- during a span when the Thunder converted 10-of-13 shots. That tilted the scales in OKC’s direction and paved the way for the Thunder to assume a 105-83 lead with 6:34 remaining in the game.
"I thought today we didn't get enough stops,’’ said Nowitzki, who poured in a season-high 33 points. "I think it was the third or fourth quarter -- it was just too much.
"The offense did some good things, but we just didn't get stops (and) not enough rebounds to really make this a game.’’
Not even the addition of David Lee could alter what has happened to the Mavs lately. Lee had his moments, grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring less than a minute into his initial appearance in the game since signing a $2.1 million free agent contract with the Mavs this past Monday.
In 15 minutes, Lee collected four points, four rebounds and two assists. But the Mavs weren’t expecting an All-Star performance out of the two-time All-Star in his debut game with Dallas.
"I thought he did well,’’ Nowitzki said. "He’s going to be a good rebounder for us.
"He’s going to make some plays and some rolls to the basket. I think he’s going to be good for us, but it’s tough after one practice and one game.’’
Lee converted two of his three field goals, dove on the floor for a few loose balls, and desperately tried to get adjusted to his new surroundings.
"More than anything I was just trying to get acclimated to the system out there and get used to playing with different combinations,’’ Lee said. "Of course, I came in and played some (power forward) with (center) Zaza (Pachulia) and played a lot with Dirk while I was at (center).
"I did some different things, but I think it's just going to get more comfortable from here. I tried to make up for not knowing some things by playing hard – trying to take some charges -- diving on the floor for some loose balls and trying to rebound the best I could.’’
When the schedule came out, the Mavs were hoping this six-game home stand would serve as a chance for them to gain some ground on the competition. So far, they’re 1-1 on this home stand with a game Friday night against Denver.
"This home stand is big,’’ Nowitzki said. "We’ve got to get some wins, got to get some traction.’’
More than anything, the Mavs know they must learn how to finish games. Otherwise, they’re going to have a difficult time making the playoffs this season.