Commentary

Loss chips Mavs' home-court foundation

AAC defeat to Magic, post-streak struggles hit in midst of quest for West's No. 2 seed

Updated: April 8, 2010, 1:36 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- For a team trying to secure home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks still aren't doing a good job of winning at home.

For anyone who thought the eight straight wins they ran off at the American Airlines Center during the 13-game win streak had turned that trend, think again. The Mavs are just 3-3 at home since, and that includes a 34-point whipping by the New York Knicks, a late collapse against the Boston Celtics and now Thursday's cold-shooting 97-82 defeat to the Orlando Magic.

The damage included a slip to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference standings behind the Utah Jazz, who have the same record but own the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Phoenix Suns can move into a dead heat in the standings with a win at Detroit on Friday night. The Mavs own that tiebreaker, but clearly the No. 2 seed -- which provides home-court advantage through the first two playoff rounds -- is wide open in the final two weeks of the season.

"The No. 2 seed is up for grabs," Jason Kidd said. "For us, it's not the 2-seed. It's to try to win every game. We'd like to win them all and see what happens. If not, championship teams find a way to win on the road, it's been proven."

The Mavs on Thursday couldn't crack the defense of the defending Eastern Conference champs and finished with their lowest point total in more than two months and their poorest shooting percentage (38.3) in nearly two months. At the other end, Orlando dialed up 14 3-pointers as reserve Mickael Pietrus hit 6 of 6, matched Dirk Nowitzki's 24 points and outscored the Mavs' other four starters combined.

"It happens. It's not that we didn't try," said Kidd, who finished with seven points and two of the Mavs' season-low seven assists. "We were in a dogfight last night and it was a quick turnaround, and they were a fresh team that hadn't played and they were prepared."

Yes, the scheduling gods did the Mavs no favors. This was the tail end of a back-to-back, while the Magic had not played since beating Denver at home Sunday. Still, the Mavs have to take some of the blame for requiring the energy to pull off a near-miraculous overtime comeback at Memphis.

That slim victory prevented the Mavs from taking a losing record (they're 5-5) since the big win streak into Saturday's home game against the rolling Oklahoma City Thunder.

"I don't believe in schedule losses. It's just we were a little flat, unfortunately," Nowitzki said of the Magic loss. "We're obviously not the youngest team anymore, so definitely an overtime game didn't help."

Mavs players wouldn't admit to being gassed, although their statistics would suggest otherwise. Rick Carlisle said he didn't fault his team's effort. Shots simply didn't go down, he said, and they allowed too many 3s. Add 17 points and 20 rebounds from Dwight Howard, and the Mavs were cooked early in the third quarter when Orlando extended a seven-point halftime lead to 10, and eventually 18.

"We've got to continue to work to get better," Carlisle said. "We are trying to get [the] No. 2 seed, or No. 1 if something happened and the Lakers completely fell off the face of the earth, but playing your best at the right time is the real critical thing."

The Mavs are a riddle this season, a markedly improved road team from a year ago with 24 wins, the most in the West. Yet they've often appeared passionless at home at 26-12, the most losses among West playoff teams other than a young Oklahoma City squad (13) and depleted Portland (13).

"Do I have a great answer for it? I don't," Carlisle said. "We're a much better road team than we were last year; that's a real positive. We're not as good at home as we were last year, and that's been a challenge."

It will be more of the same when the Thunder visit Saturday. Oklahoma City will have had two days off since sweeping a two-game road trip at Philadelphia and Boston. The Thunder have won four of five and continue to battle for playoff seeding.

The Mavs won't practice Friday, seeking a little rest for their weary bones with six games left -- three at home and three on the road -- and the No. 2 seed up for grabs.

"The good thing is," Nowitzki said, "there is no back-to-backs in the playoffs."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.