Lifeless Mavericks lose again at home

DALLAS -- A little bit of Dirk Nowitzki’s gloom and doom apparently got lost in translation the other night.

“I didn’t say right now we’re not a playoff team,” Nowitzki said, referring to his comments after Friday night’s loss to the CP3-less Los Angeles Clippers. “I said if we keep giving away games and let them slip away, then we’re not a playoff team. So you misquoted me.”

Nowitzki was quoted accurately by several media outlets, but there’s no reason not to take the big German at his word with the intended meaning of his comments, which were made while he was obviously frustrated.

But there’s certainly no reason to be any more optimistic about the Dallas Mavericks' playoff chances after they stunk up the American Airlines Center in Sunday night’s 92-80 loss to the 11-22 New York Knicks.

That’s the fourth straight home loss for the 19-15 Mavs, although Nowitzki said it felt like more. This was arguably the ugliest of them, considering Dallas came out so flat against a bad team that lost center Tyson Chandler early in the first quarter due to a lingering upper-respiratory infection.

“I didn’t have them ready,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, whose team trailed by 12 after the first quarter. “I will take the blame for that. It’s pretty clear. It starts at the top.”

Oh, but there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“You can blame everybody, all the way around,” said Nowitzki, who had 18 points and nine rebounds.

Shawn Marion, who had only two points and four rebounds, agreed.

“We’ve all got to take ownership of this,” he said. “It was like there was no life.”

The Mavs’ 3-0 road trip seems like so long ago. The reality is the sweep through Chicago, Minnesota and Washington was wrapped up on New Year’s Day, and that trip might have caused the Mavs to get too comfortable, as Vince Carter put it.

“We felt like we had gotten over the hump and kind of solved the problem, figured out who we are, who we needed to be to win,” said Carter, who had 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting against the Knicks. “We’re not there yet.”

Maybe Carlisle does deserve the blame if the Mavs returned from the road trip believing they’d turned some kind of corner.

This roster is too flawed for the Mavs to ever feel too good about themselves. Carlisle has acknowledged that it’s easy to nit-pick the Mavs as too old, too slow, too small. But too comfortable should never be one of this team’s concerns.

“You can never relax in this league,” Nowitzki said. “First of all, we’re not even good enough to relax. We’ve got to bring it every night. We’ve got to compete every night, both ends of the floor, for us to have a chance. We’re not talented enough to coast on either end of the floor.

“I don’t know if we took a little pedal off the metal, thinking, ‘OK, we won three straight. Now we go home. We’re gonna be all right at home.’ It’s not going to work that way in this league. We’ve got to work hard and compete.”

The fact of the matter is the Mavs will achieve their potential if they’re part of a pack of teams fighting for one of the West’s last two playoff berths at the end of the season. At the moment, they’re sitting in the final spot of the playoff picture almost halfway through the season.

That shouldn’t be a comfortable spot by any stretch of the imagination.

“We’ve got to find ways to get re-energized and win some ballgames,” Marion said. “It’s a tight race and we ain’t gaining no ground right now.”

Maybe these last two losses will humble the Mavs. Maybe this bump in the road -- or, make that at home -- will motivate them.

The Mavs better get right soon. They’ll start a stretch Tuesday of four games in five days against opponents that all have aspirations of claiming a playoff spot in the West.

“We’re definitely a capable playoff team,” Carter said. “We just have to put it all together. It can’t be, we’re doing this now and forgot about that. We have to put it all together. It’s still early. There’s a lot of season left.”

Dallas looked like a team that was falling apart the last two games. Nobody needs a Hall of Fame power forward to point out that; if the Mavs don’t fix their issues soon, there might be a lot of angry folks at the American Airlines Center in mid-April.