A loss like the Dallas Mavericks' 109-90 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night is best forgotten. But when it is a third straight loss as the Mavs are trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff race, it's impossible to forget.
In fact, after this loss, you could hear the echoes of Jim Mora's famed "Playoffs?! Playoffs?!" in the background. OK, not actual echoes, but Mavs players and coaches were not taking anything for granted after one of their worst losses this season.
"We have to get (to the playoffs) first," Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said after leading the Mavs with 22 points.
It's not quite as dire as its sounds, but it underscores the tightness of the race. The Mavs, who are now in a tie for sixth place with Portland, are far closer to being eliminated entirely (three games ahead of ninth-place Utah) than from claiming the fifth spot, occupied by Memphis (5 1/2 games). Plus, the Grizzlies found a way to upend Cleveland on the road Monday while missing four of their five normal starters (well, really five, if you count center Marc Gasol, who is out for the season).
The Mavs (33-31) started out fine ...
... but eventually experienced a litany of issues against the Clippers:
The Mavs failed to crack 100 points for the first time since scoring 90 points against San Antonio in Feb. 5;
The Mavs shot 37 percent from the floor, their first sub-40 percent shooting night since shooting 39.1 percent against Miami on Feb. 3, and their worst shooting night since shooting 36.5 percent against Atlanta on Feb. 1;
Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews shot a combined 3-of-18 from the floor and combined for just 11 points. Neither hit a 3-pointer;
The Mavs shot 4-of-25 from the 3-point line, their worst 3-point shooting effort of the season;
And DeAndre Jordan, their coveted free-agent target from last summer, soundly dominated the Mavs inside to the tune of 23 points and 20 rebounds.
"Now you know why we wanted him," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said.
But if there was one area Carlisle harped on the most after the game it was transition defense. Los Angeles put up 28 fast-break points to Dallas' 13 on Monday, and some of those baskets set off an 18-3 run in the final 4:37 of the third quarter, which allowed the Clippers (41-21) to break a 65-all tie and build an 83-68 lead by the end of the third quarter. Clippers guard Chris Paul had 18 of his 27 points in the third quarter.
The transition defense is a disturbing trend for Dallas. During this three-game losing streak the Mavs have been outscored in transition, 72-35. In Carlisle's mind, the inability to get back on defense is inexcusable.
"I just pointed that out to our guys," Carlisle said. "That is the most important area of defense — getting back initially. We have to pick that up."
Matthews, Parsons and Nowitzki were reading from Carlisle's script post-game.
"We have to get back in transition," Matthews said. "We are a good halfcourt team. Teams are scoring too many points without having to work."
The dearth of points Monday, combined with the three-game losing streak, prompted some to ask if the Mavs had enough talent to compete in the brutal Western Conference. (See the issues with the Wild, Wild West here.) Carlisle said the Mavs did have the talent, but conceded that competing depended on the "collection of multiple parts operating in concert to create a situation where a team can function well and win games."
That has not happened in the last three games, with two of those losses coming to non-playoff teams.
Matthews admitted that some of the missed shots might be impacting this team's toughness, and that the Mavs can't be a "basket-driven emotional team."
Parsons, meanwhile, couldn't — or wouldn't — pinpoint what was causing the mental lapses, but said it wasn't due to a lack of chemistry.
"I think we're just going through a tough stretch right now," Parsons said. "We have a lot of talent in this room, a lot of experience. We're just having a lot of mental lapses and not really showing it, especially at the end of the game. Tonight it got ugly."
Parsons probably had the most troubling quote of the night, when asked what the Mavs' biggest problem was, if it wasn't talent or team chemistry.
"That’s what we're trying to figure out," Parsons said. "If we knew what it was then we wouldn't be losing these games."
That could the reason why Carlisle threw up the wall on playoff talk when asked whether the Mavs could handle centers like Jordan in the playoffs, as Monday's loss represented the first of nine games against playoff-bound teams.
"It's a next-game mindset right now," head coach Rick Carlisle said. "A conversation about what may or may not happen with this team in the playoffs is not an appropriate conversation to have right now."