Mavs play with fire again, get burned

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks coughed up a 20-point lead and then gave way to the Boston Celtics' 10-game win streak and the Miami Heat's nine-game streak.

Dallas' 12-game streak -- tying the San Antonio Spurs' for the longest of the season -- was buried unexpectedly under the quick feet of Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night 103-99, after the Mavs had plowed ahead by 20 points midway through the second quarter.

Perhaps the Mavs should have seen it coming. They got fast and loose with 20-plus-point leads in their past two home games to New Jersey and Utah, but hung on.

The Mavs couldn't get to win No. 13, however, despite leading 42-22 with 5:04 left in the second quarter against a Bucks team that looked as though it wasn't all that keen on playing. But a 28-12 run, which included an 18-8 dash to start the third quarter, got the Bucks back in it. Then a killer 14-0 run over a three-minute span late in the fourth quarter supplied just enough cushion.

Dirk Nowitzki had a chance to tie it with about 12 seconds left, but his off-balance 7-foot fallaway from the lane fell flat and hit off the front rim.

"They took it," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of the Bucks' effort. "We gave them opportunities and they took it."

The second-half stat sheet was ugly. The Bucks (10-13) -- last in the league in both scoring (91.5) and field goal percentage (40.7) entering Monday's game -- scored 60 points on a Mavs defense that ranks in the top five in scoring (92.6) and field goal percentage (43.2). Jennings outscored everyone, with 18 points. The Bucks' bench outscored the Mavs' reserves 30-18. The Bucks outrebounded the Mavs 22-19, and committed half as many turnovers.

Carlisle's assessment was blunt.

"They kicked our ass," Carlisle said. "I don't know any simpler way to say it."

And what does he make of the Mavs' recent theme of playing with fire in three consecutive games on their home floor?

"What I make of it is that we're not where we need to be yet," Carlisle said. "When you try to be a great team, taking care of home court and a take-care-of-business mentality is really important. We have yet to establish that on a consistent basis, and so there's going to be frustration until we get there. Look, we have work to do; it's as simple as that.

"I still have a great belief in our team. I know what our potential is, but this kind of slippage is something that we've seen all too often. I've got to coach harder. Players are going to have to be more conscientious."

At 19-5 and suffering their first loss since Nov. 19, the sky isn't exactly falling for the Mavs. Dallas recorded courageous wins with dominant fourth-quarter defensive efforts against Boston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Utah. Offensively, production came from all over. Nowitzki was scoring plenty, but on many nights he did so with limited shot attempts because others were stepping up.

That wasn't the case against Milwaukee. Nowitzki needed 24 shots to score 30 points. He scored 31 against Utah on 12 shots. But no other starter had more than 11 points, and Jason Terry continued his trend of scoring almost exclusively in the fourth quarter, with 10 of his 12 in the final period in the loss.

But it's the defense that Carlisle will keep a close watch on. He has done plenty of forewarning when it comes to defensive slippage. After allowing 100 points three times in the first 19 games, the Mavs have given up at least 100 three times in their past five games. Even owner Mark Cuban on Saturday expressed his concern with this team's curious habit of letting down.

"This one is very disappointing," said center Tyson Chandler, who had 11 points and nine rebounds. "It's one thing to lose a game [when] you battle and go back and forth. This was not one of those games. It was a game we clearly should have won."

Carlisle has continually reminded Dallas of the slippage that occurred last season after the Mavs got off to a 19-7 start and then stumbled around for much of the winter.

"We gave up almost two quarters of 30 points [32 in the third and 28 in the fourth], which is 60, which is obviously not what we want," Nowitzki said. "That's not how we've been winning. So the defense definitely had a collapse there. We couldn't get stops in man-to-man, couldn't get stops in the zone, so we were in trouble."

Jennings had a lot to do with that. He was unguardable. DeShawn Stevenson and Terry couldn't do it, and the Mavs' excellent zone proved penetrable. Jennings, whom Carlisle tabbed as the quickest guy on the planet -- and he looked like it Monday night -- finished with 23 points and 10 assists. He had 10 points in the comeback third quarter and 18 in the second half.

So now the Mavs finally get to see what it's like to play coming off a loss again. The most recent time didn't go so well, with the Chicago home loss following a close defeat at New Orleans.

The Mavs will close out their six-game homestand against Portland on Wednesday and Phoenix on Friday. They'll look to put this one behind them and do a little soul-searching as to why 20-point leads at home -- where four of their five losses have occurred -- just aren't safe.

"When you're at home and you've got a team down 20 points, you can almost smell the blood," Mavs forward Shawn Marion said. "But they hit a couple of shots and they get confidence, and you miss a few, and next thing you know you've got a single-digit game. Twenty points is a lot at times, but it can be small at times, too."