Mavs' DNA almost leads to disaster

A late 3-pointer by Shawn Marion was key as the Mavs held off Sacramento. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS – The Western Conference standings do not feature a category for style points.

That qualifies as good news for the Dallas Mavericks after they got away with a bad performance against a worse team in Saturday night’s 103-100 win over the injury-depleted, vacation-planning Sacramento Kings.

“At this point, I’ll take a win over anybody,” Dirk Nowitzki said after leading the Mavs with 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. “That’s where we’re at in this season. If we win the eight games we’ve got left, if we win them all ugly, I’ll take that, too. That’s the point we’re at.

“Every win counts right now. Every win is crucial right now however we can get it.”

The Mavs, who at 44-30 are still percentage points behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the fight for the West’s last playoff spot, certainly didn’t seem to be a team playing with such a sense of urgency. After building a 17-point lead, Dallas looked like it was just going through the motions against a lottery-bound team playing the butt end of a back-to-back.

That almost bit the Mavs in the butt.

The Kings, who were forced to play rookie second-round pick Ray McCallum every second of the game at point guard, held a five-point lead as late as four minutes to go. The Mavs finally managed to get a few consecutive stops and knock down enough shots to pull out the victory, but a playoff contender shouldn’t have to sweat down the stretch at home against such inferior competition.

And it isn’t as if the Mavs woke up and whupped up on the Kings in crunch time. After Monta Ellis missed a pair of free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining -- causing O.J. Mayo flashbacks -- the Kings had a chance to send the game into overtime. Fortunately for the Mavs, the only damage caused by Travis Outlaw's 3-point attempt was a crack to the backboard.

“My team’s execution? I’m in favor of it,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle deadpanned, borrowing the famous line from John McKay during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ winless 1976 campaign. “I include myself in that, too.”

OK, that might be a bit extreme, and Carlisle followed that up by saying he didn’t want to make a win feel like a loss. But victories don’t get much more depressing than this display.

“We’re lucky to survive it,” Carlisle said.

The Mavs might not mind winning ugly, but they won’t win often performing like this in their final eight games of the season. Not often enough to avoid a mid-April fishing trip for the second straight year.

It’s puzzling, if not discouraging, to see a team with such little margin for error lack focus. Some mental gaffes, such as Nowitzki picking up his third and fourth fouls in a 13-second span to force him to sit prematurely in the third quarter, were uncharacteristic. But it’s certainly not surprising to see the Mavs go to sleep after building a big lead.

“We lose leads,” Nowitzki said. “That’s what we do.”

The Mavs have lost five games this season in which they led by at least 17 points. Had this game been added to that list, the Mavs might not have been able to recover from that wound.

“There’s been so much of this, unfortunately, it’s been part of our DNA,” Carlisle said. “I just feel like we’re going to snap out of it -- and I know we have to. I’m a very positive thinker on this, and we’re going to do better on this.”

If not, the Mavs’ execution will probably happen before the playoffs begin.