Commentary

Postseason ghosts start to haunt Mavs

In heated affair, Lakers, 'soft' tag bully visitors in familiar high-stakes disappointment

Updated: April 1, 2011, 9:27 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

LOS ANGELES -- There was a playoff feel in the air at Staples Center on Thursday night. It certainly had all the markings of a Dallas Mavericks postseason performance: a stagnant offense that relies on Dirk Nowitzki to do the bulk of the work, a loss of composure after being bullied and yet another disappointing loss in a heated high-stakes contest.

Jason Terry, whose postseason performances have been a big part of the problem in recent years, vowed Wednesday that these Mavericks would prove perception wrong. He declared that these aren't the same ol' one-and-done Mavericks.

Well, they didn't look like the same ol' Mavericks while getting their butts whipped 110-82 by the two-time defending champions. They looked a lot worse.

The Mavs haven't had this miserable a performance in a game with so much meaning since the 67-win team no-showed in a win-or-go-home situation at Golden State.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Lakers fight
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireThe Mavericks' Jason Terry showed the wrong kind of fight when he committed a flagrant foul 2 against the Lakers' Steve Blake in the fourth.
"Every year teams are going to have games where they [expletive] the bed, right?" said owner Mark Cuban, trying to downplay the damage after the Mavs suffered their most lopsided loss of the season and saw their chances to get the West's second seed evaporate. "That's just the way it goes. We haven't had one of these in a long time. It just came at the wrong time. That's all."

Sorry, Mark, but it felt like a lot more than that. This felt like a microcosm of many of the problems that have haunted Mavs' postseasons since they let a 2-0 lead slip away in the 2006 Finals.

Take it from a Maverick with a fresh perspective. Tyson Chandler's only involvement in the Mavs' rash of recent first-round failures has been taking it to them as the Hornets big man in 2008. He's honest enough with himself to know that the Mavs will go out with another whimper this spring unless some things change significantly and quickly.

"We're not where we need to be," Chandler said. "We need to accept that."

Anybody in Dallas thinking differently is simply delusional.

This is a team that is 2-10 against teams in the Western Conference playoff picture in 2011. The Mavs have lost their past seven meetings against their West playoff peers.

The first six losses during that streak were close, coming by a combined total of 16 points, with three games decided by a single point each. The Mavs could look in the mirror and make excuses or ask "What if?" after those nights.

Not after this mess against the NBA's measuring stick.

Chandler We're not where we need to be. We need to accept that.

-- Mavericks center Tyson Chandler on the team's need for change
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle stayed positive after the loss, saying he still had a "strong belief in our guys," but the Mavs basically proved his recent "soft" comments right. They let the Lakers dictate the tempo and tone of the game and pretty much packed it in the second half. There is no nice way to explain being outscored by a 56-31 margin in one half.

The only fight the Mavs showed was of a foolish nature. Terry, frustrated by a five-point 2-of-9 shooting performance, sparked a brouhaha that led to four ejections with a shove to Lakers guard Steve Blake's back that was ruled a flagrant foul 2.

"Emotions got the best of me tonight," Terry said. "I already apologized to the team. You just can't let that happen in big games."

You also can't let the opponent bully you, which is exactly what the big, bad Lakers did. Just look at these stats from the second half: The Lakers had a 34-22 rebounding advantage and held the Mavs to 11-of-41 shooting from the floor.

"We've just got to get tougher," said Chandler, who had seven points and 10 rebounds while being badly outplayed by Lakers big man Andrew Bynum for the second time this month. "I don't mean throwing punches. I mean basketball-wise.

"We've just got to play hard basketball. I felt like in the first quarter we came out and were playing tough. As each quarter went, I felt like we had little drop-offs. Obviously in the middle of the third and the fourth, we were just done. We weren't running hard. We weren't setting good picks, making them make decisions defensively by our offense. We just allowed them to set up and be the Lakers."

When the going gets tough, the Mavs go to the big German guy and just watch Dirk work.

That seemed to be the strategy during the second half, when Nowitzki had 13 of his 27 points and the rest of the Mavs managed to contribute only 18 points. The Mavs' offense has been a thing of beauty for much of the season because of crisp ball movement, with five or six players scoring in double figures on a regular basis.

The Mavs' offense ground to a halt in the second half, something that has happened far too often in playoffs past.

"They took that away," Nowitzki said, offering no further explanation of the Mavs' offensive misery.

Guess what? The Lakers will take it away if Dallas earns a playoff rematch. The Mavs had better figure out a decent way to respond.

Folding and letting their frustrations get the best of them won't cut it.

"The playoffs started early," Nowitzki said. "That's what the playoffs are all about. Emotions are going to run high and things are going to happen."

Bad things, in the case of the same ol' Mavericks.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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