DALLAS -- Halfway through this marathon homestand, this is hardly the way the Dallas Mavericks hoped it would go.
As tight as the fight for the final couple of playoff spots in the Western Conference is, any loss feels like a crisis. The Mavs now are tied with the Phoenix Suns, winners of four straight, for eighth place in the West, a half-game behind the Memphis Grizzlies.
Panicking won’t solve any of the Mavs’ problems, but they’re well aware that their margin for error is miniscule. That’s what made blowing a double-digit third-quarter lead against the Nets -- not to mention a four-point lead in the final minute -- so difficult to stomach.
Oh, and here comes the hard part of the homestand. Three of the Mavs’ next four foes are above them in the West standings, beginning with the 52-18 Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
“We’ve got to win them,” Carter said. “It doesn’t matter who they are. We’ve got to win them. I’m not really into who teams are, if they’re good or not. We just have to win them. Whoever’s in front of us, good or bad, we need wins.
“Right now, every game is critical for us. The next challenge is OKC. We have to come ready to play. We have to find a way to beat them again.”
The increased caliber of competition is only one of the Mavs’ many challenges. They’re facing the pressure of an intense fight for a playoff spot. And they’re dealing with fatigue, an issue magnified by the Mavs’ heavy reliance on veterans in their mid-30s and two overtime games in the past week.
Fatigue is an especially significant concern for Nowitzki, who is slumping and has logged two of his three highest-minute outings of the season in the past three games. Coach Rick Carlisle is doing what he can to help, giving the Mavs a day off Monday and keeping practices as short as possible.
However, Father Time and Mother Nature might as well be considered among the Mavs’ tough opponents the rest of the season.
“There’s no excuses now,” Carter said. “I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
No time to panic. No excuses. And no margin for error.