DALLAS -- What a way for the Dallas Mavericks to start their toughest schedule week of the season.
The Mavs managed to outplay the Eastern Conference’s best team for the majority of the night. But it didn’t matter.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, who didn’t take their first lead until early in the fourth quarter, walked out of the American Airlines Center with a 110-107 overtime win. The Mavs left home in a bad mood, and headed north for the short flight to Oklahoma City to face a team just as talented in less than 48 hours.
“It’s a bad feeling,” Chandler Parsons said after the Mavs fell to 20-1 this season in games they led entering the fourth quarter. “We put ourselves in position to win the game and couldn’t close it out. Didn’t get enough stops and couldn’t make enough shots.
“We can’t hang our head. We’re going to have this same type of monster tomorrow night in OKC. It’s not getting any easier from here going forward, so we’ve got to lock in.”
It won’t get much easier the rest of the week, either. The road trip the Mavs open in Oklahoma City includes stops in Chicago and San Antonio.
The Mavs prefer to look at this “monster” stretch, to borrow Dirk Nowitzki’s description, as an opportunity. It provides them a chance to prove they are the kind of team they believe themselves to be.
“Good,” shooting guard Wesley Matthews said. “We want to be the best, we’ve got to beat the best. We’ve got to prove to ourselves that we can beat the best consistently. This one would have been nice, but it’s not going to get any easier. Good. We don’t want a lull. We’ve got to push, we’ve got to fight and we’ve got to get wins.”
Added center Zaza Pachulia: “It’s fine. You want to play against the best teams. It’s not like we have no chance. We have a great chance against all of them. When we play the right way, when we play our game, we can beat anybody.”
They failed to beat an elite team Tuesday night, in large part because LeBron James (27 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) put on the crown during crunch time.
A team that expects to do damage in the playoffs takes no consolation from competing with the Cavs.
“When you say that, it seems like we’re the team like, ‘Hey, they almost had it,’ like we weren’t expected to be in this game,” Matthews said. “No. We’re a damn good team. We are. We just need to be that all the time. We need to be that in the late stages. We need to know, [tight] game under a minute, this is what we do. This is who we are. We can’t continue to lose games like this, because we’re going to have to beat good teams.
“They were in the [NBA] Finals for a reason, but this was our game. We should have won it. We didn’t.”
The ugly truth is that the Mavs (22-17) haven’t won very often against good competition this season. They are 7-11 against .500-plus teams, which is worse than every team currently in playoff position except for the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic. The Mavs are only 2-7 against the top four teams from each conference -- and one of those wins was against Golden State without Stephen Curry.
That’s why this loss stung so much. The Mavs let a chance for a signature win slip through their fingers -- or get knocked out of their hands, as Iman Shumpert did to the ball when Nowitzki was trying to get a game-winning shot at the end of regulation.
The talk in the Mavs’ locker room wasn’t about what they did well to give them a chance to beat LeBron for the first time since the 2011 NBA Finals. The discussion focused on what they did wrong to prevent them from winning.
For example, Parsons scored a season-high 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, getting immediate results from altering his routine, shooting with Nowitzki in the morning and getting some advice from the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history. But instead of puffing his chest out about his offensive performance, Parsons pointed to a disappointing possession on the other end of the floor.
“I can’t just allow LeBron to go into the lane and get a layup that easily at the end of the game,” Parsons said, referring to James bullying past him for a layup with a minute remaining that gave the Cavs the lead for good.
“We competed against one of the best teams in the league,” Nowitzki said. “It could have gone either way down the stretch.”
That gives the Mavs no satisfaction as they start their toughest stretch of the season.