DENVER -- The miserable feeling the Dallas Mavericks had in the mile-high altitude is far too familiar.
Add this to the long list of games the Mavs figured out how to lose.
In this instance, the Mavs put themselves into position to pull off a huge upset only to fail to finish the job. The Denver Nuggets led for a grand total of 2.8 seconds in the second half Thursday night and walked out of the Pepsi Center with their 19th consecutive home win.
After leading by as many as eight points early in the fourth quarter, the Mavs were clinging to a one-point lead in the final minute. At that point, the Mavs had a well-rounded meltdown.
Poor offensive execution? Check. Poor spacing helped cause a Dirk Nowitzki turnover with 19.9 seconds remaining, and rarely used reserve Anthony Morrow, of all people, ended up jacking up a wanna-be game-winning shot at the buzzer, only to have the 25-footer swatted by Corey Brewer.
Awful rebounding? Check. The Nuggets extended their last possession with two offensive rebounds, giving Denver 18 offensive boards for the game. Allowing Brewer to come from above the top of the key to grab a missed free throw was especially costly -- and inexcusable -- for the Mavs.
“We’ve got to win that game,” said Mavs center Brandan Wright, who had a team-high 16 points but went scoreless in the second half. “This is a bad situation. It’s been the story of our season. This is terrible, the worst loss we’ve had all year. We had it and we just fumbled it away.”
The worst loss all year? That’s debatable for the 36-39 Mavs.
The Mavs have been on the wrong end of too many blowouts, but it’s games such as this that will bother them while they’re watching the playoffs from the couch. As Carter said, he doesn’t have enough fingers to count how many times the Mavs have found ways to lose games they should have won.
“There’s gotta be 20 of those games we lost,” said Nowitzki, who was held to 13 points and went scoreless in the fourth quarter. “It stings just as much as all the rest of them. The amount of games we feel like we gave away is tough. This is another one we’ve got to have -- multiple chances to win, basically one rebound to seal it, one big basket. It’s tough.
“It’s tough, but we haven’t shown all season that on the road consistently we can win those games.”
Shawn Marion described the Mavs’ offense as “going from sugar to s---” in the fourth quarter, during which the Mavs scored only 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting. But it’s Denver’s last, long offensive possession that will make the flight to Sacramento so miserable.
After Brewer’s steal, the Nuggets botched a transition opportunity, resulting in Wilson Chandler missing a 4-footer in traffic. Denver forward Kenneth Faried fought for his 19th rebound of the night and got fouled. The Mavs still led by one after Faried missed both of his free throws, but Brewer outhustled everybody to the loose ball to give the Nuggets one last chance.
“We didn’t execute well offensively, and I’ll take responsibility for that,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But we’ve just got to get a rebound.”
After a timeout, Iguodala made the Mavs pay for failing to get that one rebound. Iguodala got the ball on the right wing, started to drive toward the baseline, left Carter flat-footed with a crossover, cruised through the middle of the defense and laid in the game winner with his left hand.
“We’ve got to make Iguodala earn that,” Carter said. “We can’t just let him go down the middle of our defense and get a layup. We’ve got to put him on the floor, foul him, something.”
Added Nowitzki, who noted that he could have hacked Iguodala: “To give up a game-winning layup is too easy.”
If the Mavs get that one rebound, nobody cares that the Dallas offense was dreadful down the stretch. The Mavs would have been celebrating their most surprising win of the season en route to Sacramento.
“One freakin’ stop,” Carter said, “and we’re having a different conversation.”
Instead, it was the same conversation the Mavs have had so many times during this disappointing season.