Win streak just a distant memory

DALLAS -- The good vibes from the 13-game winning streak are long gone.

The Dallas Mavericks are a team scrapping for playoff position, hoping to peak for the postseason and sputtering while trying to mesh all their moving pieces.

The results weren't pretty in the final two minutes Saturday night. The Mavericks, a veteran team that prides itself its ability to close games, got dominated down the stretch by the Boston Celtics in a 102-93 loss at American Airlines Center.

The Mavs, who led by seven points early in the fourth quarter, failed to get a field goal in the final 3:04. The Celtics completely shut down Dallas' go-to plays with the game on the line. The Mavs' most important possession of the game was a miserable display, with Boston throwing it out of whack by fronting Dirk Nowitzki at the 3-point line, causing a poor pass from Jason Terry that led to a Nowitzki turnover … and a door-slamming layup at the other end by Rajon Rondo.

That layup with 1:18 remaining, which stretched the Celtics' lead to six, was Boston's eighth bucket in nine possessions.

"At the end there, we couldn't hit a shot, nor could we get a stop," Jason Kidd said.

That's a pretty good description for how a close game turned into a convincing win for the Celtics.

Dallas wins a higher percentage of tight contests than anybody in the NBA, going 9-2 in games decided by five points or fewer. The only reason that record didn't take a hit Saturday night is because the Mavs' execution on both ends was so bad down the stretch.

And this was against a Boston team with a lot of old legs that played the previous night in Houston. The Mavs had three days to prepare for the Celtics but blew an opportunity to move past the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference standings.

Perhaps this was a painful reminder that the Mavs, who have lost two of three since matching the league's longest winning streak of the season, are still in the process of jelling with all their new and recently returned pieces.

It's barely been a month since Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson arrived in the blockbuster trade with the Washington Wizards. Erick Dampier missed almost all of the winning streak after undergoing surgery on his right middle finger. Haywood, Butler and Terry all sat at least a couple of games because of injuries.

It's amazing that the first month after the trade went so smoothly, but this turbulent stretch should have been expected.

"We've got to be better," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I'm not going to make any excuses."

The Mavs never puffed out their chests about the winning streak because they knew it didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. If that's the high point of their season, it would be considered a failure.

This is a team that considers itself a contender. It's also a team that understands that this homestand -- a 2-2 split with unimpressive wins over bad Eastern Conference teams -- was a step in the wrong direction.

"I'm not worried," Nowitzki said. "I still like all the pieces. We've just got to keep working."

They don't have much time. Only 13 games to go before the playoffs begin.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.