Commentary

Mavs suffering post-streak depression

And they'd better snap out of it before it's too late to get a favorable playoff seed

Updated: March 23, 2010, 12:25 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Cuban reckons that his Dallas Mavericks relaxed after reeling off 13 consecutive wins.

"I just think it's natural," the Dallas owner said before Monday night's game, pointing out that the Cleveland Cavaliers lost three consecutive games after their 13-game winning streak earlier this season.

Well, how many blowout losses to lottery teams do the Mavs need to suffer before they stop hitting the snooze button?

The 115-99 loss to the New Orleans Hornets dropped the Mavs to 1-3 since they matched the longest winning streak in the NBA this season. And this ranked right up there in the embarrassment department with being routed at home by the New York Knicks to snap that streak.

Mavericks V. Hornets
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesMarcus Thornton torched the porous Mavericks defense for 28 points.

The Mavs managed to blow a 16-point lead by halftime. The Hornets seized control of the game with a 23-0 run, with the Mavs failing to score for a stretch of 6:31 spanning the second and third quarters.

But scoring ranked far down the list of the Mavs' problems. The Hornets had three consecutive 30-plus-point quarters. The Mavs played shoddy defense and sloppy offense, committing 20 turnovers that New Orleans converted into 35 points.

As Rick Carlisle said, that turnover total is evidence that the Mavs weren't aggressive enough and didn't compete hard enough. So is the fact that they attempted only four free throws through three quarters.

"We basically just called it quits, it seemed like," small forward Shawn Marion said. "We just took it on the chin. We stopped doing everything we did to take the lead and relaxed."

There's that "R" word again. And Jason Kidd also uttered it, saying the Mavs might be guilty of looking ahead to the postseason.

The consensus in the losers' locker room at New Orleans Arena is that this isn't a case of the Mavs suffering from swollen heads after their winning streak. So perhaps there's no need to remind this bunch of veterans that they play for a franchise that has won a grand total of one playoff series in the past three seasons.

The Mavs -- whose core consists entirely of veterans searching for their first ring -- seem to understand that playing soft is a surefire way to make an early playoff exit. Yet that isn't reflected in their recent play.

Dallas' defense slipped significantly toward the end of its winning streak, although it had a built-in excuse with both of its big men sidelined by injuries. The Mavs have been a defensive disaster for all but short bursts over the past four games, allowing the Knicks, Bulls, Celtics and Hornets to shoot 53.8 percent from the floor.

"We've just got to remind ourselves that we are a physical team," Carlisle said, acknowledging that he's concerned with his team's lack of focus. "We've got to have that kind of disposition for 48 minutes."

The Mavs are supposed to be a veteran, mature team. It's inexcusable for focus, intensity and effort to be issues with a dozen games to go in the regular season.

The Mavs, who are a game behind the Denver Nuggets for the West's second seed and a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz, can't expect to just flip the switch for the playoffs.

"The problem is, if you look at the standings, the playoffs really start early this year," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We'd definitely like to get the two [seed] and see what happens with the Lakers, but that's not how we've played the last couple of games. We've got to bring the playoff intensity early."

If they don't, the Mavs will make another early exit. And then they'll have all summer to relax.

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

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