Delivery overdue for Mavericks

LOS ANGELES -- Heads shook from side to side. Disbelief ruled the night just as it had in the same visitors locker room two nights earlier, after an eerily similar loss.

For the third time in five road losses and the second time in as many games -- and from darn near the same spot in the same building -- the Dallas Mavericks were defeated on a last-possession 3-pointer.

Chauncey Billups, long ago having earned the name "Big Shot," swished a 3-ball from the right wing with a second to play. It nullified two 3s in a row from Jason Terry's otherwise cold hand in the final 36.7 seconds, which had erased an 88-83 deficit and looked to have saved the day for the Mavs.

After Wednesday night's 91-89 loss to a Los Angeles Clippers team that was playing a third game in as many nights and was again short-handed without All-Star point guard Chris Paul, some of the Mavs lamented how close they had come to pulling off the L.A. sweep at Staples Center instead of getting swept.

Coach Rick Carlisle doesn't necessarily share that view.

"We're light years away from being the team that we want to be," Carlisle said.

And Carlisle said that before Wednesday's game. Before Dallas allowed the Clippers to shoot nearly 50 percent in the first half. Before two L.A. guards not called CP3 combined for 47 points. Before Dallas again shot just 42 percent. And before the Mavs failed to crack 90 points for the fourth time in seven road games.

"It's tough when this happens," Carlisle said afterward, referring to another late-bucket loss. "But for me, it points to the fact that there's a lot of other things we can do during the course of a game to avoid those situations, and that's how we're going to have to look at it.

"It's extremely hard to hit two 3s in the last minute of the game to take a lead when you're down five. You got to play from the front more than we're doing."

Carlisle said the Mavs' defensive effort wasn't good enough. Dallas was punished on the perimeter by Mo Williams' 26 points, in his first game back from injury, and by Billups' 21 points and one cold-blooded 3 among his five on the night.

Still, the Mavs allowed just 91 points in all -- no more than 21 in each of the final three quarters -- and an overall shooting percentage of 42.5.

Once again, the offense couldn't get it going. Making matters worse is that legendary safety valve Dirk Nowitzki isn't coming through when others can't connect. The 7-footer was 6-of-18 for 17 points.

And for the first time, Nowitzki acknowledged that the right knee he's been covering with a protective sleeve has been causing him problems virtually since the start of the season.

"It's OK, better than it was three weeks ago, so that's very good," Nowitzki said. "But it's still just stiff and I can't move the way I want to, but it will be OK. I'm going to keep on working, get a stronger base, get my legs strong where they were in June and hopefully I'll be back to my normal self."

After last season's long postseason run to the title, followed by playing for Germany in the Olympic qualifying tournament at the end of the summer, Nowitzki said he was sick of basketball and likely took too much time off. Combine all that with the hastened training camp and the onslaught of games, he said, and it has caused the knee irritation.

This was the seventh time in the past eight games Nowitzki has scored fewer than 20 points, which already is a third of the total times he did that last season. And other than going for 26 and 29 points in both games against Oklahoma City, Nowitzki has not scored more than 21 points in 13 other games.

Nowitzki is scoring fewer than 18 points a game, as compared to his 23-point average last regular season and nearly 28 in the playoffs.

Wednesday's performance was extremely frustrating for him … and it showed on his face and in his demonstrative actions. He got hit with a technical with 8:59 to go in the third.

In the fourth quarter, when the Mavs -- being the more-rested club -- could have wrested control, Nowitzki hit a jumper early, added a couple of free throws, then a game-tying 3-pointer with 6:42 to play. It would be his final points of the game, with his only other shot attempts being two errant 27-footers.

"I'm having trouble bending my knees," Nowitzki said. "I've just got to get my legs stronger, get my base back. I've got to use my legs in my shot, and hopefully they'll come back soon."

Nowitzki is finding that games are coming so quickly that as the body begins to get conditioned, it also fatigues because of the lack of recovery time. He played 33 minutes Wednesday and now must bounce back less than 24 hours later to face a surging Utah Jazz team that is 7-1 at home.

"Some practice days, some lift days would be nice, but we just don't have it," Nowitzki said.

"This way you've got to just adjust on the fly."

That's the theme of the season, and so far it's been much easier said than done.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.