First Impression: Denver 104, Mavs 96

They say famous deaths come in threes. And while the word 'death' is a little harsh when it comes to the third-in-the-West Mavs, there is no denying that the recent road trip turned into a bit of a funeral procession. And now, with a 104-96 Wednesday loss to visiting Denver, the 'threes' have turned into 'fours.'

The "threes''? Well, there is that third-place status, the envy of many but simply the foundation of what the title-minded Mavs expect of themselves. There were the three straight road losses, all essentially blowouts, coming into Wednesday's "we're-finally-home'' meeting with the contending Nuggets. And there was the saggy performance of the long-time three-headed core of the Dallas offense.

Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Kidd. Jason Terry. … big names with shrinking results as of late.

Dallas tried to end the losing streak back home on Wednesday against Denver but instead suffered a 104-96 loss that makes it four straight losses for the 53-45 Mavs, who are now just one game up on Oklahoma City for that No. 3 slot in the West.

This loss occurred with coach Rick Carlisle opting to rest Kidd and center Tyson Chandler. But that wasn't intended to be taken as "cockiness'' or as a concession.

"These games are important and we're trying to win them," Carlisle said before tip. "Just because we don't have Kidd and Chandler doesn't mean that we're giving anything up to anybody. We're expecting to go out there and play our ass off."

Dallas did erase a 16-point third-quarter deficit – a moment during which the Mavs did as Carlisle commanded – and was tied with about three minutes before Denver's end-of-game 10-2 run. Some of who Carlisle called "the other guys'' did either: a) play well (JJ Barea with 12 points and 10 assists and Brendan Haywood with 19 rebounds and five blocks), or b) receive valuable burn (Roddy Beaubois with the start at point guard and Corey Brewer with 13 points and three steals in 20 minutes). Oh, and Shawn Marion was a 21/10 guy -- and in the last three games, he's averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 rebounds.

But with just a week left in the regular season, the Mavs' chances hinge less than ever on "the other guys'' and more than ever on the likes of Dirk, Jet and Kidd.

Let's chronicle the exploits of those three, bouncing from Sunday in Portland (where the team last played, and poorly) to Wednesday at the AAC:

*Dirk Nowitzki: Over the previous six games (not including Portland), The UberMan was averaging 21.8 points and 8.2 rebounds, but had scored under 20 three times and hit only 42 percent of his field goals, including only 25 percent behind the arc.

Against Portland, Dirk was the Mavs third-leading scorer with 16 points on 5-of-12 attempts, along with five rebounds and seven trips to the free-throw line, where he converted six.

Against Denver? Dirk was 9-of-16 for 20 points, seemed prepped to get hot late, and seemed plugged in enough to record a notable late-game block.

*Jason Terry: Over the previous four games, Terry was averaging 11 points and 4.5 assists, and hitting only 31.4 percent of his shots from the floor and 15 percent behind the three-point line.

Against Portland, Terry scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting, adding zero rebounds, one assists, one turnover and nothing else … he had as many personal fouls (four) as any positive statistic.

Against Denver? Jet was 5-of-10 for 15 points, missing a late-game 3 try that might've altered the fate of this game.

*Jason Kidd: Since March 6, over the course of 15 games, Kidd was averaging 5.9 points, 8.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 31.5 percent, and 23.9 percent behind the arc.

Against Portland, Kidd went scoreless, missing all six of his shots, with five of those coming behind the arc. He did have three steals and a block, but only four assists and appeared to begin to reserve his energies as the game went on.

Against Denver? He wore a lovely suit, like another key guy, Tyson Chandler, awaiting a more important day.

Earlier in the week, Dirk said: "We need some home cooking now. … We got to play better, get more out of myself. Jet hasn't been there on this trip. J-Kidd's got to make some shots. Just all across the board."

He's pinpointing the right guys. But do they need simply "home cooking''? Or something more (less) than that? Going into Wednesday, unfortunate occurrences came in threes. Now they've come in a fourth – with the Mavs now trying to hang onto not being fourth in the West.

There is no panic in the Dallas locker room. But there is awareness.

"I don't know that it's ever going to be perfect,'' said Carlisle before the game. "Last year, we entered the playoffs on a five-game roll and all seemed well. And we struggled (losing in Round 1 to San Antonio). The priority in our mind is to make sure the guys that need rest get rest, the guys that have any health issues get it resolved and then we've got to focus in on who our opponent is.''

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