DALLAS -- This needed to be the stretch where the Dallas Mavericks made up some major ground in the Western Conference playoff race.
They played seven of eight games at home with the only road trip against the lowly New Orleans Hornets. The Mavs went 5-3 in the stretch, fading at the end with close losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.
"We can't be talking about playoffs if we can't beat those East teams at home like Atlanta and this one," Dirk Nowitzki said. "It hurts us. All these close games at home, you’ve got to win -- simple as that -- if you want to be a playoff team."
Nowitzki and the Mavs can do the math. They need to go 16-10 the rest of the season -- the equivalent of a 50-win pace -- just to get back to .500 and bust out the razors. They need to go 19-7 -- a near 60-win clip -- to any reasonable hopes of extending Dallas' dozen-year playoff streak.
"It's not looking good for sure," Nowitzki said. "Obviously, this league is crazy and we've seen a lot. I've seen a lot. But this is definitely getting tight."
A few more notes from yet another frustrating finish for the Mavs:
1. Brand plays big: Elton Brand played the epitome of a grown-man game, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking three shots in 25 minutes off the bench. He had seven rebounds (five offensive) just in the fourth quarter, including one he ripped away from two Bucks before laying it in for the Mavs' lone bucket of the final three minutes.
"He's a warrior," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It’s hard to watch a guy like that fight his ass off and as a team be unable to get it done. It's tough. Winning means everything to him."
That's why Brand had no interest in discussing his seventh double-double of the season. After the loss, Brand was left thinking about what else he could have done, such as exploiting the mismatch when Milwaukee switched Ersan Ilyasova on him late so Larry Sanders could defend Nowitzki.
"You find a way," Brand said. "There were some things I could have done out there to help us win the game. It's a team sport."
2. Too much from Mayo: An issue that has been problematic for O.J. Mayo much of the season popped up again against the Bucks. He did a poor job protecting the ball, committing five turnovers.
It was the 12th time this season Mayo committed at least five turnovers. The Mavs are 1-11 in those games.
"The important thing is that O.J.'s got to understand that he's got to keep the game simple. He’s not a creator," Carlisle said. "He's a scorer and a guy that can make simple plays, and he's proven that. But when he starts dribbling into a crowd and trying to make things happen, that's simply not his game."
Carlisle told Mayo, who had 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and four assists in the loss, the same thing after the game.
"I guess I'll shoot the ball more and be more aggressive," Mayo said. "Turnovers obviously hurt us tonight. I led us in turnovers, so I've got to be better in that department."
3. Carter's donut: Sixth man Vince Carter, who had been one of the NBA's hottest shooters, came crashing back to Earth. Carter was 0-of-8 from the floor, with his lone points coming on a pair of free throws early in the fourth quarter.
"He's had a great year," Carlisle said. “Guys are going to have off nights. That's just the way it goes."
This wasn't just an off night. It was one of the worst shooting outings of Carter's career. The only time he has failed to get a bucket and had more attempts was an 0-of-13 nightmare on Dec. 12, 2008 in the Nets' loss to the Raptors.