'Plenty of basketball left' for reeling Mavs

DALLAS -- So much for a statement road win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Martin Luther King Day being the start of something for the Dallas Mavericks.

A little more than a week later, it looks more like a fluke.

Dallas' season hit a low point on Tuesday night, when the Mavs were on the wrong end of a 109-90 rout by the Grizzlies to extend their losing streak to a season-worst three games. It was an embarrassing effort against a Memphis squad missing two key players (All-Star candidate point guard Mike Conley and defensive stopper Tony Allen) and playing the rear end of a back-to-back on the road.

"It's not a good time obviously, but we've got to keep fighting," Mavs power forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "It's January. If this would happen right before the playoffs, I'd be concerned, but we've got plenty of basketball left. We've got to get better. It's obvious."

Right now, Dallas seems like a team destined to again make a first-round departure in the Western Conference playoffs. It's hard to be any more optimistic about a team that is now 2-9 against fellow top-eight West teams, with one of those wins against a Pop-special San Antonio Spurs junior varsity squad.

That's why last week's victory over the Grizzlies felt so big at the time. But it clearly wasn't a breakthrough moment.

"We know we can play that style of basketball," Mavs center Tyson Chandler said, referring to quality ball movement and spacing offensively and being able to depend on each other defensively. "The thing is we've got to be more consistent with the style of basketball that we want to play."

Less than six weeks after the Rajon Rondo trade, it's still too early to make any definitive proclamations on his potential impact in Dallas. But the questions about whether the Mavs could play their preferred offensive style with a poor-shooting point guard existed before they pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics.

That doesn't mean the deal represented a poor risk for the Mavs. It was apparent they weren't a real contender with defensive liability Jameer Nelson as their starting point guard. Given the opportunity to get a four-time All-Star at the position without giving up any major assets, the Mavs had to go for it.

The results so far, however, can't be considered encouraging.

The Mavs are 11-8 since Rondo's arrival. Not bad, but a lot worse than their 19-8 record before his arrival. Their defensive rating has improved 2.3 points per 100 possessions with Rondo, but their offensive rating has dropped drastically, from a league-best 113.6 pre-Rondo to 106.3 since the deal.

This losing streak started when Rondo, whose crunch-time prowess was trumpeted by the Dallas decision-makers upon his arrival, was benched for the final 5:12 in a 102-98 loss against the Chicago Bulls. Rick Carlisle declined to discuss the logic of his coach's decision, but the only reasonable explanation is that he valued spacing and shooting over the tangibles and intangibles that Rondo can provide.

Two losses later, it's tough not to wonder whether Rondo is a long-term fit for the Mavs, especially if it takes a near-max contract to keep him.

"This isn't a Rondo thing," Carlisle said, trying to cut off that line of thinking. "This is a team thing. Right now, we've got to circle the wagons."

The Mavs certainly have plenty of messes to clean up that aren't directly related to Rondo. Their bench -- depleted in the Rondo deal -- has been outscored by double digits in each game of the losing streak. They get outrebounded on a regular basis despite Rondo representing a major upgrade in that department. And their problems in finishing defensive possessions is driving Carlisle crazy, as the coach rattled off the top of his head that the Mavs have allowed a ridiculous 142 points in the final eight seconds of possessions during this three-game skid.

"Those numbers are the highest I've ever heard or seen," Carlisle said.

And this is the lowest the Mavs, who have dropped from third to sixth in the West in a matter of days, have been all season.

"We've got to keep plugging, keep fighting, keep getting better on both ends of the floor," Nowitzki said. "I still think we have the talent. We just have to pull together and dig deep and dig out of this hole."