Porous Mavs control own playoff fate

DALLAS -- At times, the Dallas Mavericks played good defense Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs.

When they hustled back on defense, located the Spurs' 3-point shooters and actually set up their defense, the Mavs were pretty good.

The problem, of course, is they simply didn't do it enough. So the result was predictable.

The Spurs kicked their butts again. That's nine straight, if you're counting.

San Antonio 109, Dallas 100.

This time, San Antonio made 16 3-point shots and scored 35 fast-break points. They led by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter before allowing the Mavs to tease their fans with a faux comeback.

The Mavs pulled within 104-98 on Jose Calderon's 3-pointer with 1:16 left before San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard hit -- what else? -- yet another 3-pointer to push the lead to 107-98 with 56 seconds left.

"They're a hard matchup for us," Shawn Marion said. "They move the ball. They force the tempo, and they're great at getting guys spotted up for the 3. They do a lot of drive and kick, and they all make the extra pass to keep the offense flowing. "And we don't have anyone to guard Tim Duncan. We try to play him one-on-one. They just have our number. It's like that sometimes."

Two games remain in the regular season and the Mavs, who dropped to eighth in the Western Conference, remain in complete control of their playoff fate. Win their last two games against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday and Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, and they're in the playoffs.

They'll also make the playoffs if they beat Phoenix and Memphis loses one game before the teams play Wednesday.

The defense the Mavs played against San Antonio won't be good enough to beat Phoenix on Saturday.

Then again, if we're honest, the Mavs have been a raggedy defensive team much of the season. It's probably not realistic for us to expect a significant turnaround at this point of the season.

After all, we're talking about a team that allows its opponents to shoot 46.4 percent from the field. Only seven teams are worse, and none of them will make the playoffs this season.

The Mavs allow 15.7 fast-break points per game. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are the only teams that allow more -- and none of those teams is going to the playoffs, either.

"When we set up, we played pretty good defense," Dirk Nowitzki said. "They shot only 43 percent, and we'll take that most nights, but we didn't match up enough with them on the break and they got some open looks.

"When our defense was set up, we were solid and forced some tough shots. It just wasn't sharp enough."

Calderon and Monta Ellis start at guard with Dirk at power forward, so the Mavs can be only so good on defense. It's why the Mavs must pay close attention to details. Their rotations must be crisp, and they must adhere to the tenets and principles coach Rick Carlisle and his staff have instituted. When they don't, which is often, we get a result like Wednesday's butt-kicking. Actually, the Mavs' defensive flaws would be even more glaring if their offense and shot-making weren't so good. Most nights, Dirk, Calderon, Ellis and Vince Carter make so many shots and put so much pressure on their opponent that it overshadows their poor defense.

Remember, San Antonio played without All-Star point guard Tony Parker. His replacement, Patty Mills, scored a game-high 26 points and made six of 11 3s.

Uh huh, the same Mills who averages 10.0 per game. All you can do is shake your head.

Danny Green scored 15 points on five 3-pointers. Duncan, old as Methuselah, scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

Reality says the Mavs are who we thought they were when the season began: a gifted offensive team that can't defend.

They have two games to prove us wrong and make the playoffs.