Toronto 84, Dallas 76: First Impressions

"I see it as a game you just have to approach the right way." Rick Carlisle stated in reference to the possibility of Tuesday's contest against the Toronto Raptors acting as a "trap" game. Nothing wrong with the words there, but ...

Well, something appeared askew in the on-court production as the Mavs stumbled from the gate and could never quite find their footing in an 84-76 loss … snapping a five-game winning streak and setting a new season-low for scoring.

Let's go "First Impressions'':

*So, how poorly did the Mavs stumble from those gates? Jason Kidd set the tone with two early turnovers, and the rest of the team followed.

For the first quarter:

13 points tied a season low.

Four made field goals set a new season low.

20 percent field-goal percentage (4-of-20) is a season low.

One assist was a new low.

Seven turnovers matched a season worst.

In other words, "poorly'' isn't strong enough of a word.

*Dallas would try to rebound in the second quarter behind the energy of Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal and JJ Barea in combination with the offense of Caron Butler, who went 5-of-8 from the floor for 10 points in the second.

As a team Dallas went 12-of-19 from the floor (63.2-percent) and dished out 10 assists, even tying the game at 25 on the shoulders of a 12-to-0 run.

Yet, as the offense found its flow, the usually dependable defense lost its way, allowing Toronto to make 10 of their 18 shots, including a 14-to-2 run of their own to maintain a six-point lead for the half … despite Dallas scoring the final seven points.

*Some may have dismissed the fact that Brian Cardinal would be available this game, after missing Monday night's due to illness.

If there was a silver lining to be found, it came in the form of Cardinal's play.

He finished with eight points and seven rebounds over 21 minutes of action. Fair enough, but the stats don't paint the entire picture.

He was active, willing to get dirty and lived up to his "The Janitor" nickname. For example, two of his best contributions will likely only amount to a single personal foul on the stat sheet.

First, there was the dunk saving hard foul delivered to Ed Davis. After helping outside the paint, the ball found Davis in open space beneath the rim. Cardinal sprinted, closed the distance in an instant and met the ball, and a good chunk of Davis's arms, before a monster slam could be converted.

Davis went on to make 1-of-2 free-throw attempts.

Next, there was a missed shot that fell into a crowd and into the hands of a waiting Toronto player. Cardinal refused to give up, along with Shawn Marion, and eventually wrestled the ball lose … where it was tipped the length of the court and out of bounds, Mavs ball.

It wasn't enough. But, it's worth noting.

*Shawn Marion was able to shrug the chains binding his teammates in that first quarter, as he went 3-of-5 from the floor for eight points. Unfortunately, if you remove his shot attempts the rest of the Mavs went a combined 1-of-15 for five points.

Marion finished with 12 points and five rebounds.

*Both Dallas and Toronto were on the second night of back-to-back games. Both walked onto the court extremely short-handed.

Dallas was without Dirk Nowitzki.

Toronto was without Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Peja Stojakovic, Sonny Weems and Reggie Evans.

That's a lot of names, but we'll call it about even.

No excuses.

With the Spurs looming just over the horizon, the trap was set … and the Mavs walked into it … literally walked, thanks to their "sluggish start," as Rick Carlisle would call it after the game.

*Dallas is now 5-1 on the first nights of back-to-backs, and 5-1 on the second night of back-to-backs.

They've now played six of the 20 scheduled.

Last season, they also totaled 20: going 15-5 in opening games, and 12-8 on the tail end.

*The Mavs had won 11 of their last 13 against the Raptors, including 10 straight at home. Last season the teams split the series 1-1 with both home teams prevailing.

*With Dirk not playing, Dallas needed a balanced offensive attack. They are undefeated at 7-0 when six players score in double digits this season. This was likely what they had hoped for.

Only three players would reach this goal against the league's fifth-worst defense by points allowed (105.4), and worst by field-goal percentage allowed (48.8-percent).

They were Jason Terry (18), Caron Butler (15) and Shawn Marion (12).

*The defense would recover in the second half to hold the Raptors to 13-of-32 shooting (40.6-percent), but the offense could never find whatever rhythm had been located in the second quarter as the Mavs went 15-of-36 and lost the half by two points.

*The 84 points Toronto scored is only three points above the lowest Dallas has held an opponent all season, making it hard to lay the blame at the feet defense.

"Giving up 84 points, you'll take that any day of the week in this league." Jason Kidd said. "We feel like we had a good chance to win it."

Yet, the timing wasn't there. When the Raptors had to have points, they got them.

Meanwhile, the Mavs could not … and that was the difference in the game.

*Dallas led once all night, at 1-to-0 after Caron went 1-of-2 from the free-throw line to start the game's scoring.

It's hard to accept a loss like this. There's a reason the phrase "trap" game has been born into existence, because it happens. It sucks, but it happens.

That doesn't make it any easier to cope with tonight, but it should lose some of the sting when you remember the Mavs are still 24-6 and have the third-best winning percentage in the NBA.

"It's the NBA. In the NBA, you're going to have your bad nights," JJ Barea said as he tried to shake off the lingering stench. "We've just got to move away from this one."

And, we should too.

Still, it would be nice to find the comfort of Dirk re-taking the court Thursday against the league's best team, by record, the San Antonio Spurs.

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