San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – By virtue of Sunday’s 111-86 home loss to the Spurs, Dallas is seven games under .500 for first time since April 2000. And that is the only possible way to use ‘virtue’ in a sentence about these Mavs.

The Dallas Mavericks have closed the calendar year in a way exactly opposite the way they opened the season.

Yes, that win at the Lakers on Opening Night seems so long ago. … as does the glory of the Mavs’ 2001 NBA title.

Dallas is in the process of slipping a couple of classes, down to the point where a game against the contending San Antonio Spurs seems to come with it a foregone conclusion. Sunday’s 111-86 loss was a tad more respectable than the team’s 129-91 loss at San Antonio eight days ago.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s summation of Dallas’ night is a generous one.

Said Pop: “They had a tough night shooting … We were fortunate, obviously Dirk is not ready. He’s not Dirk Nowitzki, basically, one of the greatest players that’s ever played, so it’s going to take time for him. Everybody’s just trying to figure out their place and work around, and get back into a rotation. … They were in the game all night. It was a six- or eight-point game, and it kept changing, and we finally made a run in the second half. We made some shots and they just never made shots.”

Thanks, Pop, but … we are grasping at straws here.

This is Dallas’ sixth straight loss. The Mavs have dropped nine of their last 10 games. They are now 12-19 on the season. By my count, that’s nine times Dallas has lost by 19 or more.

“We just didn’t get it done, and we haven’t gotten it done in a pretty significant stretch of games now,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who noted the team’s cracks in discipline at practice and its carryover into games.

But how many bullets can a coach fire? How many chairs can he throw? (Nellie used to say six a year. I suspect that Carlisle is running short of ammo and furniture.)

Six straight losses? This is just the third time in the Cuban Era that’s happened. Seven games under .500? This is the first time that’s happened to this proud franchise since April 2000. Getting things turned around in order to claim the customary playoff berth? Know that going into Sunday, Dallas needed to find a way to win 32 of the final 52 to qualify for the postseason. Basically, a team that right now wins less than 40 percent of its games is going to immediately have to start winning 62 percent of its games.

Read here to fully understand the percentages-driven hole that’s been dug.

Dallas failed to find answers for Tony Parker (21 points and nine assists), Manu Ginobili (20 points and five assists) or Tim Duncan (18 points and 10 rebounds). That’d be easier to absorb if Dirk was Dirk. But as Pop notes, that’s still not the case. So The UberMan (having shed the knee sleeve) settles for eight points, five rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes.

As far as the Big Three,” Carlisle said, “they’re great players and we didn’t do a good job on them. They made a lot of plays, a lot of shots. Some of them we contested, but a lot of the plays they made, they were just better than us.”

Darren Collison (18 points and eight assists) is upticking. Elton Brand (14 points and 10 rebounds) and Chris Kaman (13 points and nine boards) bob about in the middle. O.J. Mayo continues to slump (he was held under 10 points for the fourth time in five games). And in a move unlikely to please the masses on Boards, Vince Carter (13 points) was given a why-the-hell-not start, his first of the year … and I suppose it didn’t quite have its intended impact as Dallas fell behind 20-6 to begin the game.

To his credit, Carlisle is unwilling to grasp at straws … even as it seems that’s all Dallas has right now.

I don’t want to get into a dialogue on the parts of the game that were ‘OK’,” he said. “It’s not what this organization has been about since Mark bought the team. This is a stretch that is unprecedented, really