NEW YORK – Things could be worse for the Dallas Mavericks: They could have lost the first game of their road trip against the Cleveland Cavaliers and gone 0-3 on the swing that finished up Friday night. Instead, opportunities were lost, and they ultimately went 1-2. It would have been a disaster if they had lost all three; instead, in very winnable games, Dallas found ways to let the final two slip away.
The second quarter of the 107-106 loss Friday against the Brooklyn Nets was a disaster all in itself. The Nets scored 39 points, their most in a second quarter this season and the third-most in any frame. They shot 16-of-21 from the field and 7-of-9 from beyond the arc. Mirza Teletovic scored 24 of his career-high 34 points in that second quarter.
“We weren’t alert. We weren’t rotating quickly enough. We weren’t fighting hard enough,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of how his team closed the first half. “That’s pretty clear. You can’t have an off quarter in this league competitively. I’m afraid that’s what happened in the second quarter.”
Prior to the game, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked to grade his team. He gave a rather conservative answer.
“B-minus,” Cuban replied. “I think we’ve got the capabilities to be a B-plus, A. We’ve just given up too many games.
“We just need to execute better. We need to learn more and be better at it. Like coach has said, we need to be a little tougher down the stretch.”
It seems the Mavericks are taking one step forward only to take two steps back. For example, they had a total of 16 turnovers in the two games that preceded these past two losses; in those defeats, they totaled 36. Execution on multiple levels continues to be the downfall for this club. All of the missteps added up in a big way during this road trip.
“We expected to go 3-0 this week, plain and simple,” Mavericks forward Vince Carter said. “I don’t really care what anybody else really thinks, it’s what we felt like we could accomplish, and we didn’t get the job done. The good thing about it is that we can bounce back and kind of take care of business at home.”
Dallas won’t have to play outside of the American Airlines Center again until it visits the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 5. The Mavs are 7-7 so far in January, and that inconsistency has found them sliding back into the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. And closing in behind them are the aforementioned Grizzlies, winners of seven of their past 10 and gaining momentum.
Dallas leads the four-game season series with Memphis 2-0, and is two games clear in the playoff chase. That helps, but as the season heads toward its sprint to the finish, the Mavericks will remember games like those against Toronto and Brooklyn as opportunities they allowed to slip through their fingers.
“It’s tough. Now, we’re home for 10 days, which we haven’t been in a while,” Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “Adam Silver [deputy NBA commissioner and chief operating officer and eventual successor to David Stern] got us pretty good here with the schedule the last few weeks, I’ve got to admit. We’ve got to take care of our home court.”
Taking care of the home court is an absolute priority for Dallas now. Cuban gave the Mavericks a B-minus. If things continue to slip, they’ll get a C. Instead of the actual letter C, it’ll be a "see me after school."