Commentary

Mavs end trip with a thud in Portland

Loss against potential first-round foe continues downward trend against playoff teams

Updated: April 4, 2011, 2:48 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Dallas Mavericks want to be perceived as a skilled, veteran team that knows how to win.

They look like an old, tired team that's running on fumes, completely lacking confidence, chemistry and any other intangible ingredient necessary to make a playoff run. To put it in plain and simple terms, the Mavs are an absolute mess at the point of the season when they want to be peaking.

That was true before the Mavs left on the season's longest road trip. It's painfully obvious as the Mavs prepare to make the long flight home from Portland, packing a three-game losing streak and the baggage of being bullied by two potential playoff opponents.

[+] EnlargeMavericks V. Blazers
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Mavericks might see LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers again in the first round of the playoffs.

"Nothing against the wife and the kids," Jason Terry said before the Mavs left on the six-game, 10-day journey, "but this is time for us to get some chemistry back and get our swagger back and build up some confidence on the road."

That plan worked out about as well as the Mavs' small-ball lineup in the second quarter against Portland, when the Trail Blazers scored 38 points. That was pretty much the knockout punch against a Dallas squad playing its fourth game in five nights.

Don't be deceived by the 104-96 score. This game was that close only because Rodrigue Beaubois got red-hot during garbage time, when he scored half of his 18 points. The Trail Blazers delivered a butt-kicking, the second time the Mavs left a building with bruised behinds in the last few games.

The losses were much more lopsided on the back half of this road trip, and fatigue has to be considered a factor.

"Six in 10 days is no fun," Jason Kidd said after playing 27 scoreless minutes.

But this is the continuation of a trend that began after Caron Butler suffered a regular-season-ending knee injury on New Year's Day. Western Conference playoff teams have dominated Dallas since then, handing the Mavs nine losses in 11 games.

You have to go all the way back to Jan. 19 to find the Mavs' last win over a top-eight team in the West. The Trail Blazers extended Dallas' losing streak against such foes to eight games.

Since a 21-1 run against a soft stretch of schedule, the Mavericks are a .500 team in their last 16 games.

"I think we're still good," Terry said.

That statement is as off the mark as Terry's shooting in the spotlight games of this road trip. And that's saying something, considering he combined to score nine points on 3-of-15 shooting in the losses at Staples Center and the Rose Garden.

Perhaps the panic button shouldn't be pushed until the Mavs are facing playoff elimination. That, however, will be a heck of a lot sooner than later unless something changes significantly soon.

"Worried is a bit much, but you go through ups and downs in the season," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored only 16 points for the second consecutive night. "Obviously, it's a little late in the season to be going through a down. That's a little disappointing, but it could be worse. It could be in the playoffs."

The Mavs have five games -- four at home -- to get this fixed and try to establish something resembling momentum and consistency entering the playoffs. They have a date with Denver, the West's best team other than the Lakers since the All-Star break, after a couple of days off.

There should be a strong sense of urgency, if not desperation.

"Sometimes all it takes is a good practice or a good game or a good meeting," Nowitzki said. "We certainly have time, so we'll see what happens."

A first-round rematch with Portland, which has a pair of home wins over the Mavs in the last few weeks, is likely to happen.

Several Mavs acknowledged that the Blazers, with star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and a bunch of big guards, would be a tough matchup. Not Terry.

Fresh off a four-point, four-foul performance, Terry puffed out his chest. For a man who admitted that the Mavs left Dallas in search of swagger and confidence, it certainly felt like false bravado.

"I think people better start talking about us," Terry said. "I don't care who we play."

Oh, there is plenty of talk about this team. The Mavs just wouldn't want to hear what folks are saying.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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