Mavs facing crisis after failure to compete

DENVER -- Sound the alarm. Press the panic button.

There’s no such thing as overreacting to a loss as dreadful as the Dallas Mavericks’ 115-110 setback Wednesday night in Colorado.

OK, so it’s not a season ender. But maybe some shouting and screaming will wake up a team that sure doesn’t appear to realize it is fighting for its playoff life.

The Mavs desperately needed a win after losing their last two games. They were facing a Denver Nuggets squad that had lost 11 of its previous 12 games.

How did the Mavs seize the opportunity? By showing up in a haze, allowing the Nuggets to light them up for 41 points in the first quarter.

“I’ve been saying all along, if we don’t play hard, we can get torched by anybody,” said Dirk Nowitzki, whose 27 points were wasted. “We’ve got to compete on defense.”

This was supposed to be the easy game in one of the Mavs’ most difficult stretches of the season. If the Nuggets gash them like this, how the heck can the Mavs stop the bleeding against the Portland Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors over the next week?

The only good news for Dallas on Wednesday night is that the Memphis Grizzlies lost. So the Mavs maintain a 1 1/2-game cushion for the West’s final playoff spot. However, a humiliating outing like this could be the turning point for a season headed south.

“You’re always worried when you lose three games in a row with 20 left and the playoff standings the way that they are,” Nowitzki said. “So, yeah, are we worried? Sure. Are we going to do anything about it? We’ll see this weekend.”

That’s about as directly as the face of the franchise can challenge his teammates.

A loss under any circumstances to the Nuggets could be considered a catastrophe. But Wednesday night’s showing was especially disturbing because Dallas’ starters showed an inexcusable lack of basketball character.

“Embarrassing,” is the word Nowitzki used to describe Dallas’ effort in the first quarter.

“We didn’t come out to play,” guard Monta Ellis said. “No energy.”

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle agreed.

“We were too casual to start the game,” he said. “We got knocked back on our heels and our butts.”

A failure to compete is never acceptable. It’s absolutely inexplicable for a veteran-heavy team well aware that its fight for a potential playoff berth will probably come down to the wire.

Yet the Mavs let a Nuggets team with nothing to play for punk them to start the game. Denver grabbed 12 of the game’s first 13 rebounds and repeatedly beat the loafing Mavs down the floor for easy buckets.

What happened?

“I know what didn’t happen,” Nowitzki said. “We just didn’t run back. We didn’t get any stops. They got open shots. They got offensive rebounds. They got really whatever they wanted. It’s as easy as that.”

Starting center Samuel Dalembert, whose effort is about as consistent as the stock market, was so lackadaisical that he didn’t play a second in the second half. Based on defensive merit, Ellis and backcourt partner Jose Calderon should have been riding pine, too.

In fact, Carlisle’s biggest regret after the humbling loss in front of an ESPN audience -- and a crowd that featured entire sections that were empty -- was that he didn’t sit his starters after seeing them mail it in for the first few minutes of the game.

“I take full responsibility for this loss because at the beginning of the game we weren’t into it and it was my mistake,” Carlisle said, his voice rising with anger. “I should have subbed all the guys out of the game that were in there that gave up 12 points in three and a half minutes or whatever it was. Not doing that was a major mistake.

“I’ve been allowing guys to play through things. I believe that these guys would snap out of it, and we didn’t.”

Can the Mavs snap out of it this season? Stay tuned.