DALLAS – After a somewhat solid first half against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night at American Airlines Center, the Dallas Mavericks looked emotionally spent in the second half.
No energy, no legs and no pep in their step in the second half served as the backdrop behind the Mavs’ third straight loss – a 109-90 beat-down to the Clippers.
It’s a recurring theme that has the Mavs 33-31 overall and probably worried about the way they’re playing with only 18 games remaining.
"I mean, it’s the NBA,’’ shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who missed all six of his shots against the Clippers and scored just two points. "We have another game on Wednesday.’’
The Mavs know they need to put up a more concerted effort on defense in Wednesday’s game – at AAC against the Detroit Pistons – if they plan on snapping back to life and becoming a bonafide playoff contender. Especially since the loss to the Clippers came after disheartening losses to the Sacramento Kings last Thursday and to the Denver Nuggets this past Sunday.
"This one (hurts), it (hurts) even more coming off an away -- we lost to Denver,’’ Matthews said. "We should have had that (Denver) game twice, and playing this team tough for three quarters or whatever.
"But we’ve got to be a defensive team. It starts with getting back.’’
The Clippers were relentless in the second half when they just kept ramming the ball down the Mavs’ throats. During one near-12 minute stretch, the Clippers outscored the Mavs by a whopping 45-12 and forged ahead by as much as 32 points.
"Our transition defense has taken a big step back in the last three games, which are all losses,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "That’s the most important area of defense is getting back initially, and so we’ve got to pick that up.’
Carlisle acknowledged that the Mavs have the necessary talent to compete with the NBA’s top teams. They just haven’t proven that yet this season.
"Our talent is based on the collection of multiple parts operating in concert to create a situation where the team can function well and win games,’’ Carlisle said. "We’ve taken a step back behind the curve the last three games and that’s got to change, and we have smart players and we have good players and we have players that care.’’
That certainly didn’t play out in the second half Monday.
"I thought at the half we were right there with them and competing,’’ said Nowitzki, who scored 22 points. "We didn’t make shots tonight.
"I thought obviously the back-to-back didn’t help. But we’ve got to get back in transition.’’
And get back to playing the way they were before the calendar changed from 2015 to 2016. The Mavs were 19-13 before Jan. 1 and have been only 14-18 since then.
The Mavs also need to start finding the basket more from long distance. Against the Clippers, the Mavs made two of their first three 3-pointers, but missed 20 of their last 22.
Asked if missing shots has any impact on the Mavs’ toughness, Matthew said: "I wish I could say it didn’t, but evidence points otherwise. We have to flip that individually, collectively, we have to flip that.
"We can’t be a basket-driven emotional team. We have to want to get stops, know we can get stops, do everything we can to get stops, because eventually it’s going to turn.’’
That "turn’’ never came Monday. Probably because of that blistering 45-12 run bridging the third and fourth quarters which put the Mavs out of their misery.
"We miss a couple shots, we’re going to get hot,’’ Matthews said. "We can do that, we’ve proven that.
"We can’t let teams score easy on us.’’
Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who outscored the Mavs himself, 18-16, in the third quarter, explained how his team was able to get out and run more in the second half.
"I think we got out in transition a lot more because we weren’t taking the ball out of the net,’’ Paul said. "We’re a tough team in transition because we have the athleticism, the shooters and the creators.
"It’s tough to stop us."
The Clippers outscored the Mavs in fast break points 14-9 in the first half and 14-4 in the second half.
The Mavs took a 52-50 lead into the dressing room at the half thanks to a tip-in by Nowitzki. But in the second half, the Mavs completely disappeared on both ends of the court and have been a shell of their former selves lately.
"I didn’t think we gave them any resistance in the first half,’’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought our defense in the second half was unbelievable, and when you get stops, then we got in transition.
"We got into our pick-and-roll game (and) didn’t allow them to set up their defense. The second half we defended without fouling and we got into transition."
And once that started, the Mavs put up very little resistance.
"We all own this three-game losing streak, all of us, coaches, players,’’ Carlisle said. "It’s an hour-to-hour fight.
"It’s keeping your competitive dander up, it’s the commitment to unconditionally helping the guy next to you and the other guys next to you. We’ve got to pick it back up.’’
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on dfwiradio.com