DALLAS – O.J. Mayo has been at his worst against the West’s best.
Not coincidentally, so have the Mavs.
Dallas is 1-12 against the Western Conference’s top four seeds this season after Sunday’s loss completed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s sweep of the season series. The San Antonio Spurs also swept the Mavs, who have lost both of their meetings with the Los Angeles Clippers and are 1-2 against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Mayo is leading the Mavs with an efficient 16.8 points per game this season, but his production has fallen off a cliff against the conference’s top four contenders. Mayo is averaging only 10.6 points in those 13 games, shooting .352 from the floor and .146 from 3-point range, as opposed to .461 and .414 overall this season.
The Mavs have been outscored by 128 points with Mayo on the floor in those 13 games. He’s a plus-21 for the rest of the season.
Why has Mayo struggled so much against the conference’s elite?
“I don’t know,” Mayo said after scoring nine points on 4-of-10 shooting Sunday. “Couldn’t tell you.”
Fortunately, Mayo’s neighbor in the Mavs’ locker room offered a much more elaborate answer.
“The good teams obviously do a good job on him, like they used to do on Jet,” Dirk Nowitzki said, referring to his former scoring sidekick Jason Terry. “They know he’s a very, very big part. When he scores high, we usually have a good chance of winning. He’s a very good shooter, so most of them don’t leave him. They get into him. Off the screen-and-roll, they quick-trap him.
“He’s just got to keep on working. Keep coming off down screens and looking for his shot. He got to the basket a couple of times. I guess he’s got to just keep attacking. Keep attacking and look for what’s there.”
Coach Rick Carlisle has preached the importance of patience and discipline to Mayo, stressing that it’s especially important not to try to do too much against good defensive teams. Mayo didn’t feel like he had a chance to make an impact in Sunday’s loss, mentioning that he “was pretty much just spotted up in the corner.”
“I just got to have an opportunity to be aggressive,” said Mayo, who has been the Mavs’ third offensive option this month with Vince Carter getting hot. “We’ve got a moving type of offense. You don’t want to be ball chasing or really forcing the issue because that looks bad. You’ve got to just take what they give you and have an opportunity to knock down some shots.”
When Mayo has had those opportunities against the West’s best, he hasn’t knocked them down nearly often enough.
That’s a concern with the Clippers on the schedule next week and one more game remaining against the Grizzlies. It’s also a concern for the future if Mayo returns to Dallas next season.
“He’s got to pick up his game against those (teams),” owner Mark Cuban said before Sunday’s game. “Juice and I have talked about it. He knows he does. There’s nobody who’s more aware of it than O.J. is. O.J. works hard. That’s part of the progression of being 25.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ second gut-wrenching loss to a contender in their last three games:
1. Bad break for Roddy B.: Rodrigue Beaubois’ season might be over after he fractured the second metacarpal in his left hand during Sunday’s second quarter.
“I don’t know what to say,” Carlisle said. “I just feel very bad for him. He had put the work in. He had been playing well and this was a game we needed him. He’s had some bad luck with injuries. We just hope he can get back. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to this year or not.”
The injury bug first hit Beaubois in the summer after his promising rookie season, when he broke his foot while practicing with the French national team. That injury required two operations to repair and limited him to 22 games his second season.
Beaubois has dealt with various nagging injuries over the last two years and has failed to develop into a solid rotation player, much less a star. But he earned his way back into the rotation with two solid performances last week, including an 18-point, five-assist outing to key the Mavs’ Friday win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s now uncertain whether Beaubois, who was unavailable for comment after the game, will ever play for the Mavs again. His rookie contract expires at the end of the season.
“I feel bad for the kid,” Nowitzki said. “It’s just sad. Just so many injuries. He’s been here for four years and has missed a lot of action. … It’s tough. We feel bad for him. But he’s a good kid.
“He’ll stick around. The good thing is when you break your hand, you can still work out and run and stay in decent shape, because this is obviously a big summer for him. He’s a free agent and he obviously wants to stay in the league and have a long career. Hopefully he can get healthy and we’ll see where he lands.”
2. Center switch: The Mavs’ starter at center is back to being a mystery that will be solved when starting lineups are announced 16 minutes before tipoff.
Elton Brand started for the first time since Feb. 1, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds in 21 minutes.
“The starting center doesn’t play too many minutes usually,” Brand said, half-kidding. “I was hoping that wasn’t me, so I was trying to make a difference out there.”
Chris Kaman, who had started the previous five games, had two points and three rebounds in 4:32 off the bench. It was the third time in the last four games that Kaman played six or fewer minutes.
Brandan Wright, who saw some time at power forward, got the most minutes among the big men. Wright had eight points and seven rebounds, but he was only 4-of-12 from the floor, far less efficient than he’d been recently.
Rookie Bernard James, the starting center for most of February, got a DNP-CD for the seventh time in the last 10 games.
3. On to ATL: The Mavs finish up a dreaded four-games-in-five-nights stretch on the road Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. With the Mavs clinging to slim playoff hopes, they’ll need to muster energy to perform in what’s pretty much a must-win game.
“We have to dig deep,” Brand said. “This is a game that can make or break our season.”