Mavericks never could get over the hump

LOS ANGELES -- Full of optimism after Saturday’s phenomenal comeback win, Dirk Nowitzki compared that stunning rally against the Chicago Bulls to the story of the Mavericks’ season.

Just when you think you can count them out ...

Unfortunately, Nowitzki’s comparison was probably a few days premature. Their 101-81 loss in Tuesday night’s critical game against the Los Angeles Lakers truly sums up the Mavs this season:

They manage to beat the odds by making things interesting, but this patchwork roster is just not good enough to get the job done.

Maybe you can’t count the Mavs out quite yet, but the math sure as heck looks hellacious as far as their playoff hopes go. They now trail the Lakers and Utah Jazz by 2½ games and don’t have tiebreakers against either of their competitors in a three-team fight for the West’s final playoff seed.

“We knew we were behind the eight ball all season,” said Nowitzki, whose bushy beard will keep growing after the 36-38 Mavs failed to seize an opportunity to hit .500 again. “We were battling, battling back. To think we were going to win them all down the stretch is tough, but this is a game we needed to have if we really wanted to make it interesting.”

For a few moments in the third quarter, it appeared that the Mavs might pull off another comeback, kind of like Game 1 in the 2011 West semifinals, a shocker that set the tone for that Dallas team of destiny’s sweep of the two-time defending champion Lakers and title run.

Alas, fate doesn’t smile on a team this flawed.

It took one possession for the Mavs’ momentum to disintegrate after they went on an 11-0 run to trim L.A.’s lead to five. Lakers reserve forward Earl Clark scored five points in the possession after a timeout, making a layup despite being fouled, missing the free throw and canning a corner 3 after Pau Gasol pulled down one of the Lakers’ 19 offensive rebounds.

“We never could get back over the hump,” said Shawn Marion, who joins Nowitzki as the lone Mavs on the active roster who remain from the title team.

We never could get back over the hump. That sentence seems destined to sum up this disappointing Dallas season, which will snap a dozen-year postseason streak for the Mavs, barring a miracle.

The Mavs, a team comprised primarily of temporary pieces, surprised a lot of people just by having hope as the calendar flipped to April. After all, it’s been 16 years since a team battled back from 10 games below .500 to punch a postseason ticket.

It’ll be at least one more year before that happens again, barring a miracle.

The Mavs landed in L.A. with legitimate hope. They boarded their flight to Denver, the toughest place in the West for NBA visitors, with the baggage of harsh reality after being thoroughly dominated on the boards (57-37 Lakers edge), struggling to get good shots (42.0 field goal percentage) and allowing Kobe Bryant to post a triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) and three other Lakers to record double-doubles.

“We have to win out,” Vince Carter said, “and hope that it’s good enough.”

The Mavs will keep hoping to get over the hump, but it looks more like a mountain after losing to the Lakers.