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Spurs' mental lapses lead to first two-game skid since November

SAN ANTONIO -- Hands jammed inside the front pockets of a pair of black sweatpants, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard brushed aside excuses teed up Sunday by reporters to explain away the team's 105-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

San Antonio had just come off a four-game road trip spanning six days. So naturally, fatigue might have factored into the club's meltdown, right?

"Probably," Leonard said. "But it's not an excuse. We were in the game. We were up nine or 10 points at halftime, and we gave it away."

It wasn't the first time. So that might give cause for concern regarding San Antonio's prospects moving forward as it prepares for next month's annual rodeo road trip, which begins just six days after the Spurs host the Oklahoma City Thunder to close out the month of January.

The Spurs held a 15-point lead over Dallas with 3:01 remaining before intermission, and they led at the half by 10, before allowing the Mavericks to outscore them 56-42 down the stretch. The defeat marked the fifth time this season the Spurs lost a game in which they led by 10 points or more.

The defeat also registered as just the second time all season San Antonio dropped two outings in a row.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pointed to mental lapses on defense as the culprit.

"Too many mental errors defensively," Popovich said. "I thought we did a really poor job discipline-wise. Weak-side defense wasn't there. [Harrison] Barnes did a great job. Nobody seemed to be able to guard him. Perhaps I should've gone after him earlier. But I thought we'd be able to guard him, and we weren't. Too many weak-side errors defensively where they got to the rim just too easily.

"Yeah, I know we scored points. I know we got 100 points, that's fine. But the mental mistakes defensively were really costly."

Barnes represented just one of four Mavericks scoring in double figures, as Seth Curry led the way with 24 points, followed by Barnes with 19, Wesley Matthews with 17 and Dirk Nowitzki with 15.

Dallas is now 6-3 on the season with Curry in the starting lineup. He also contributed a career-high 10 rebounds in the win.

"We know he can score," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of Curry. "I'm just really impressed tonight with the 10 rebounds. That's a big difference-maker when our guards get in there and help out on the boards -- 24 [points], 10 boards, that's huge. He played some point guard. He played some shooting guard, which was really important."

San Antonio entered the matchup on Sunday having captured victories in each of the 24 games it led by 15 points or more, but Dallas put an end to that streak. Several players in San Antonio's locker room pointed the finger at poor communication as the club's undoing against the Mavericks.

Popovich spent more time than usual in the locker room before addressing the media.

"Of course he wasn't happy," guard Manu Ginobili said. "There are games you are going to lose because the other team just had a magical performance, big shots, and you couldn't make one or dribbled it off your foot, turned the ball over. Today was mental errors, mainly, communication errors, the ones that shouldn't happen. He wasn't happy and we aren't happy. We are competitors and we want to win too. Of course, we want to play again and have a better game."

Leonard paced the Spurs with 24 points on 7 of 17 shooting, followed by LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker, who chipped in 16 points apiece.

San Antonio guard Danny Green stopped short of using fatigue as the excuse for the club losing two in a row for the first time since early November, but he wouldn't discount the mental toll often levied by physical wear and tear.

"The last couple of games, I thought we came out with pretty decent energy, pretty good focus," Green said. "Usually, we're a better second-half team than first-half team. But the last couple of games, defensively and offensively, we haven't been playing as well. I think it has to do with the mental lapses, and also physical. But mentally, we're making simple, easy mistakes that can be fixed. Mental fatigue plays a big part in it."

San Antonio hosts Oklahoma City on Tuesday, before back-to-back home games on Thursday and Saturday against the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers. The club embarks on an eight-game road trip on Feb. 6, and Ginobili said the Spurs "have to figure it out" before their two-game skid grows.

"Our defense was pretty poor; mainly, communication. We were always late," Ginobili said. "Too many missed communications. Somebody thought it was switch. The other one thought it was stay. We were not as attentive as previous games. Pretty poor game. Also, in third quarters, we are struggling, and they made a good run. We went in at halftime up by 10. It wasn't bad. Then, third quarter, we just couldn't make stops. We were flat. Exactly the same thing that happened in New Orleans [during Friday's loss]. Again, very poor performance."