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Jet responds amid uncertainty

DALLAS -- Jason Terry, playing with perhaps his clearest mind in weeks, came through with his highest-scoring output in more than a month Tuesday in a game the Dallas Mavericks simply had to have.

"Just sick of losing, sick of not getting the job done," Terry said after scoring 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting in the 107-98 win over the woeful yet frustratingly resilient Washington Wizards. "We just told ourselves, too, 'Let's just have fun, let's just go out and play.' Coach talked about it, we talked about it collectively. That was after the Sacramento game."

It's been a rough return from the All-Star break for the Mavs as a team and for the Jet, personally. He questioned why he didn't get the ball in crunch time. He failed to produce in crunch time. He was twice benched during crunch time, and on Friday night in Sacramento, it all boiled over.

He said the Mavs weren't playing as a team, wondered how much longer they could continue as is and even suggested changes should come.

The truth is that this strange season, strained on so many levels, has weighed on Terry since the team reconvened without key pieces from its title team. In his 13th season -- and eighth with the Mavs -- and in the final year of his contract, Terry quickly came to realize that the contract extension he desperately wanted wasn't coming as the organization shifted the focus from defending the title to preparing for next summer's potential free-agent bonanza.

"For me, personally, I'm playing for 29 teams," Terry said. "I want to stay here. I want to be here, but every night I'm on the floor I'm on a job interview."

Terry's not alone. This team is loaded with one-year contract guys and others, such as Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion, who don't know if they'll be traded or amnestied this summer in the name of creating more cap space.

As professionals earning millions of dollars, maybe they're supposed to look beyond all the unknowns and focus only on defending the championship that took this franchise 31 years to claim. As humans, it might not be that easy.

"Whew, that's tough. No, that's tough, it is tough," Terry said. "But it's the situation we've been faced with and we've got to find a way."

It's only been made more difficult as Thursday's trade deadline approaches. What Orlando decides to do with Dwight Howard will greatly impact the direction of this franchise beyond this season. For months the topic of Howard and Deron Williams landing in Dallas next season has superseded talk of the title defense.

Carlisle said he's not concerned about his players, particularly Jet, letting an uncertain future cause their minds to wander.

"I'm not, no," Carlisle said. "Our guys understand the best thing that can help in all of their futures is winning. That is a constant. The evaluations that teams make on guys that are looking at free agency and things like that is winning. They want winning players. [Tyson] Chandler is a great example of that."

But it's nearly impossible to suggest the constant chatter about next season doesn't have an effect on players battling now to defend a title.

"It's been tough, I mean it's been tough to do," Terry said of not paying attention to the Howard and Williams hoopla. "But at the same time, what can you do? Until Dwight makes a decision, everybody's going to be thinking that. Every time you look on the ticker saying, 'Mavericks still got a chance to get him,' who wouldn't pass up that opportunity?

"I don't know, man; it's been a circus, though. I think even ESPN's getting tired of talking about it."

On Tuesday, Terry said he left the uncontrollable baggage behind and just went out and played. He and the other core veterans on the team showed up in a virtual must-win game against the Wizards. Dirk Nowitzki had 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Vince Carter put up 14 points with five rebounds. Shawn Marion had 10 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.

And the kid, Rodrigue Beaubois, had 19 points, four assists and six rebounds in 28 minutes. He allowed Jason Kidd to sit the entire fourth quarter.

It wasn't a picture-perfect game by any stretch, but it was at least a start to digging out of the hole created during the 2-7 stretch over 12 days.

Just three nights after his emotional statements after the loss to the Kings, Terry has a different outlook. He's trying to stay focused on the present, on what he can control -- and that's his performance and how it can help this team recover and, ultimately, thrive again.

"I think this team is going to be a lot better in the playoffs than it is in the regular season," Terry said. "You've got a lot of veteran players that realize, 'Hey, this is it,' and your championship is literally up at that point for the core guys that were a part of the championship team.

"Matchups are another thing. In the West, we match up pretty good with everybody. Last year a lot of teams wanted to play us, and I can see that happening again. They're going to want to play us again if they've been watching this regular season."

Perhaps now with a clearer mind, with the trade deadline coming down to its final hours and the final 20 games of the regular season basically upon them, the Mavs began to turn a corner, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

"We're built for the playoffs," Terry said. "I think it brings out the best in all of us, and if we can survive the next 20 or so games … then we'll see what happens."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.