Mavs look to rebound after 'low of the lows'

NEW ORLEANS -- Reality has landed a roundhouse punch on the defending NBA champions.

The Dallas Mavericks, whose depth has been depleted by injury (Delonte West) and idiocy (Lamar Odom), aren’t a very good team at the moment.

Actually, that’s too mild. The Mavs are miserable right now, having lost four in a row for the first time all season. The nine-games-in-12-nights stretch is off to an 0-3 start, including a couple of losses to lottery-bound teams. It doesn’t get much worse than losing to the worst team in the West, which is exactly what happened with a 97-92 loss Friday night to a 9-27 New Orleans Hornets team that didn’t dress four of its best players.

If you’ve got a solution for getting rid of the stink hovering over the Mavs right now, bring a sign big enough for Dirk Nowitzki to see Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.

“No idea. You tell me,” Nowitzki said after a 19-point, six-turnover, 7-of-19 struggle. “Uh, obviously this has got to be the low of the lows this season.”

It’s one thing for Nowitzki to have an off night offensively. That happens from time to time.

Same goes for Jason Terry, although it doesn’t get much more terrible than two points on 1-of-9 shooting, which earned the Mavs’ co-closer a seat on the bench for the final 10 minutes.

It’s absolutely inexcusable for the Mavs to get their butts kicked on the boards as badly as they did during this trip to the Big Easy, when the Hornets had a 50-34 rebounding edge. It’s embarrassing for an injury-riddled squad that ranks second-to-last in the league in scoring to have six dudes score in double figures.

Raise your hand if you remembered that Xavier Henry played in the NBA. The rarely used reserve guard had a career-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting for New Orleans.

The Mavs have many problems at this point. The most glaring one ought to be the easiest to fix. Effort is an option, not a skill.

“We’ve got to first realize we’re not that good, so we’ve got to play hard,” said point guard Jason Kidd, a nonfactor with three points, six assists and one rebound. “We’re not doing that now. We’ve got to fight and stay together, but we’re not as good as we think.”

Added Shawn Marion (11 points, four rebounds): “We’ve got to just leave it on the floor, man. That’s the only way. We can’t make any excuses. We’ve got to leave it on the floor and play 48 minutes of basketball. That’s the only way.”

And Nowitzki: “Right now, we’re not good enough to coast. I don’t care who it is. And it’s on me, it’s on the team leaders, it’s on everybody.”

As bad as the Mavs are at the moment, recent history is a reminder that it’s premature to begin digging Dallas’ grave as a contender. Remember how horrible the Mavs looked in early January last year, when they lost six in a row and seven of eight in one stretch? Remember how wretched they looked during that late-season West Coast road trip?

“Everybody said we were the worst team ever and we were all 40 years old,” Nowitzki recalled, which seems funny after watching the ring ceremony.

This funk the Mavs are in, however, is no laughing matter.

This is a team that’s playing dreadful basketball while dealing with an off-court circus. There will be a media horde in Frisco on Saturday night to see Odom’s D-League rehab assignment, designed to get rid of the rust from his self-imposed sabbatical, but the Mavs desperately need a win over the Utah Jazz.

And then there will be five more games in the next seven nights. The Mavs could either crumble or band together by the trade deadline.

“Right now, we’ll find out really what we’re made of,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “This is one of those times. We’ve got to stick together and we’ve got to fight.”