Pattern of sluggish starts is confounding

For two seasons now, the Dallas Mavericks have been answering the same question: Why does this team get off to such poor starts?

The most common answer is that it’s a veteran team and therefore is sometimes slow to get things cranked up. Whatever the reason, first quarters are a real killer. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle continually harps on how the opening quarter sets the tone and affects the end of a game more than most think.

The Mavs have tended to get off to bad starts, then need something -- an embarrassing double-digit deficit, a stern talking to at halftime, a Jason Terry tirade -- to set off a spark.

“We’ve got to get better starts," guard J.J. Barea said, "so we don’t have to wait for something to happen for us to get going.”

The first quarter certainly set an ugly tone Monday at Houston and it allowed a Rockets team down two starters to take a 23-20 lead.

The numbers were brutal: 8-of-18 shooting from the floor and 0-of-5 from 3-point range, eight turnovers and five offensive rebounds for the Rockets, who led despite shooting 34.6 percent.

Making the start even more confounding was coach Rick Carlisle’s pre-game statement that this is an “important game” because the No. 2 seed was on the line.

“Everybody understood that,” Carlisle said. “Our first quarter was just very ragged; eight turnovers, they beat us by three. It set a poor tone for us. But, all night long we battled, guys stayed together.”

The Mavs lost an 85-81 lead in the final two minutes and if not for a ridiculous foul by Rockets forward Chuck Hayes with 1.5 seconds left, the Mavs were probably headed home with a one-point loss.

In the playoffs, there won't be any teams rooting for ping-pong balls in June or teams that will be without two starters and use just seven players as the Rockets did. In the playoffs, consistently slow starts could turn from problematic to fatal.