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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With four games remaining in the 2011 regular season, you didn’t trust the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs, in the midst of a hollow streak of 11 consecutive 50-win, playoff seasons, were at it again. They’d won five in a row to improve to 53-21 and were threatening the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA Western Conference’s No. 2 seed. But in a supposed statement game in L.A. in late March, Dallas was humiliated in a 28-point loss. Then the Mavs lost to the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets.
And on April 8, with four games remaining in the season, the Mavericks had a four-game losing streak and zero believers.
Two months later, NBA Champions.
So here we are. As the Mavs enter their final four games of 2012 last spring’s dazzling run seems as long gone as stewardesses and stamps. Gone are Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea. And, yet again, the believers have dwindled.
Can’t exactly blame them.
The past memories may be fresh, but the current Mavs have grown stale. And old. Even unreliable. Don’t look now but as Dallas hosts the Houston Rockets tonight at American Airlines Center it desperately needs to win. Not just for its fragile psyche. But for its playoff life.
This year’s Mavs, void of a charismatic chemistry, late-game execution and clutch rebounding, are 34-28 with its two-game losing streak, clinging to 7th in the West with games looming against Golden State and at the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks. Can the Mavs suddenly flip the switch, shake the Etch-O-Sketch and make another deep playoff run? Doubtful. But the good news? A year ago that was also the dismissive answer.
The Mavs last year won their final four games of the season and then rifled through the playoffs to the tune of 16-5.
This year? A chance again to win their final four and build momentum for a post-season streak. But, let’s be honest, it doesn’t look good. The Mavs are closer to the Lottery than to home-court advantage.
Dallas dumped Lamar Odom and that’s good. But they still can’t rebound. Still can’t guard opposing centers. Still can’t win – inexplicably – close games.
On a key four-game, West-Coast road trip this is what the Mavs delivered: A 19-point lead against the hapless, Lottery-bound Warriors dwindled to 3 before they escaped. A 24-point lead against the LaMarcus Aldridge-less Portland Trail Blazers evaporated to 4 before they escaped. A loss to the Lakers, playing without Kobe Bryant. And a loss to the Utah Jazz, playing without, well, anybody.
In Salt Lake City Monday night the 2012 Mavericks hit rock bottom. The Jazz, using D-League players named Blake Ahearn, Demarre Carroll and Alec Burks, outlasted Dallas, 123-121, in triple overtime. On the heels of a gut-wrenching loss to the Lakers the day before, make that four overtimes – and 0 wins. It was an epic game, only the second triple-overtime in the Mavs’ 32-year history. It was physically draining. Emotionally exhausting. Debilitating in the standings. And perhaps the body blow that will have Dallas about to tap out.
The Mavs lost in Utah because they were outrebounded by 12, allowing crucial offensive boards at the end of regulation and the third overtime. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were whistled for technical fouls. Rick Carlisle forgot he had Shawn Marion and Brandan Wright. And Delonte West became so frustrated he resorted to giving the Jazz’ Gordon Hayward a wet willy with his index finger.
These are weird, woeful times.
Most troubling of all is the close games. Dallas is 10-13 in games decided by 5 points or less. Last year the Mavs went 17-11.
It could be that Jason Kidd is being used sparingly and will be fresh for the playoffs. It could be that Dirk will have his out-of-whack shot re-aligned by mentor Holger Geschwindner during the looming five-day break before their April 26 season finale. Or it could be that, with more days off between games in the playoffs, the Mavs will morph from the NBA’s oldest team into simply its most experienced.
Or, more likely, it could be that this season was doomed from the start. The lockout. The departures. The eye toward next summer’s free agency. Dirk showing up out of shape. Odom never showing up at all. Terry turning disgruntled. The late-game losses. The quirky last-shot defeats to Kevin Durant, Derek Fisher and Chauncey Billups and the unlikely shooting sprees of Randy Foye and Pau Gasol and Devin Harris.
“A lot of teams have been hitting some incredible shots against us where you’re just shaking your head,” Nowitzki said after the Utah loss. “Hey, it is what it is. If you’re the champs then stuff the next year is going to go against you and you have to fight through it. We’re not going to hang our heads now.”
With four games remaining in the 2012 regular season, do you trust the Dallas Mavericks?
But then again…
(Copyright 2012 CBSDFW.COM, CBS Local a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
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