Mavs take foot off Grizzlies' throats

DALLAS -- On most nights, the Dallas Mavericks are the anti-Heat. This is a team that thrives in pressure situations.

The proof: The Mavs have a 28-10 record in games decided by three or fewer points the past three seasons, ranking near the top of the NBA in winning percentage in those situations each season.

The problem: Far too many of those pressure situations are self-inflicted, the result of relaxing after roaring to a big lead. Such was the case on Sunday night, when the Mavs ultimately paid with a 104-103 loss after allowing the Memphis Grizzlies to erase a 17-point halftime deficit.

"If you give up big leads all the time, at some point it's going to come back to bite you," said Dirk Nowitzki, who wasn't in a very good mood after the Mavs started a four-games-in-five-nights stretch in this manner.

It's bitten the Mavs twice in the past 20 games, accounting for the lone blemishes on their record in that span. Both losses came on buzzer-beating jumpers after the Mavericks blew double-digit leads in the second half against potential first-round foes.

Stat geeks would say this is simply the law of averages catching up to the Mavs. The number-crunchers don't put much stock in records in close games, considering it to be circumstantial evidence.

The Mavs want to believe that experience and execution are the primary reasons they come through in the clutch so often, at least during the regular season. They do feature three premier closers -- Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd -- with a combined 42 seasons in the league.

Dirk delivered again with the game on the line against the Grizzlies, drilling a go-ahead 15-footer with Shane Battier in his face with 3.1 seconds remaining. Unfortunately for the Mavs, Memphis power forward Zach Randolph responded by knocking down an even more difficult 18-footer for the win.

Owner Mark Cuban, a man who has been at the forefront of the NBA's statistical revolution and is fresh off a trip to a sports analytics conference at MIT, falls somewhere in the middle of the debate about whether winning close games consistently should be considered a sign of strength. He certainly doesn't consider the Mavs' record in those games to be a badge of honor.

"You hope they're not close games, that you're just winning them," Cuban said after his pregame workout Sunday evening. "Our stats are misleading because we're winning close games against bad teams."

The Grizzlies, the West's eighth-place team at the moment, aren't a bad team. Nor are the Denver Nuggets, who beat the Mavs on an Arron Afflalo jumper at the buzzer before the All-Star break.

But there was no excuse for the Mavs to lose either game. Kidd, Nowitzki and Terry should have been icing their old knees on the bench in the final minutes, not putting more mileage on those legs. On both occasions, the Mavs paid for putting it on cruise control after building commanding leads.

Denver erased a 13-point deficit in the final nine minutes. Memphis rallied from 17 down at halftime, managing to claim the lead with a 41-point third quarter.

Fans buzzed about the final shot as they walked out of American Airlines Center. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was muttering about that miserable third quarter, the highest-scoring by a Dallas opponent all season. The Grizzlies, who were held to 38 points on 34.9 percent shooting in the first half, pretty much scored at will in the quarter, when they made 18 of 25 shots from the floor.

"We didn't take the challenge at either end," Carlisle said. "The whole game is the third quarter. You give up 41 points and turn it over six times and basically don't take the challenge, I mean, you get what you deserve."

The Mavs deserved to head to Minnesota with teeth marks on their behinds.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.