Cue the desperation.
The Dallas Mavericks absorbed their fourth straight loss, a first for them this season, as they fell to the Detroit Pistons, 102-96, Wednesday night.
Actually, desperation may be the wrong word. Perhaps the better word is anger.
"We're the second-most experienced team in the league," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. "We have guys that have been through tough situations. We have to get angry and that anger has to manifest in bringing up our level of play just a little bit more."
Wednesday's loss made the Mavs' (33-32) life in the Western Conference more difficult. They remain in seventh place, a game back of Portland. But now the separation between the Mavs and the Houston Rockets is one-half game after Houston defeated Philadelphia.
"We're having some bad luck," Carlisle said. "But in this situation you have to make your luck."
Dallas still has a three-game cushion on the ninth-place Utah Jazz, but as Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said Monday night after they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, talk about the playoffs isn't "appropriate" right now. Dallas is just fighting to stay afloat. And as we note here in Rapid Fire, the ship looks pretty wobbly.
This season when the Mavs have been hot, they've been used to getting the timely plays, defense and baskets they've needed to win close games, including seven wins in overtime. But during this four-game streak those timely plays have been in far less supply.
That difference became stark late in the game. Dallas fell behind by nine points midway through the fourth quarter and the Mavs crawled back into it, thanks primarily to Dirk Nowitzki, who poured in 25 points.
But it was Zaza Pachulia who cut the lead to three points, 95-92, with 2:07 left with a three-point play that gave him a double-double, 10 points and 13 rebounds. After a great Mavs defensive possession that led to a Pistons shot clock violation, the Mavs looked poised to cut the lead to one, or tie the game.
But Chandler Parsons — who scored 25 points but only attempted a couple of shots in the fourth quarter — air-balled a 3-pointer with 1:21 left, putting the onus back on the defense. Parsons spent most of the first half of the fourth quarter on the bench, despite his hot shooting in the first three quarters.
"The ball found him a couple of times and he just didn't get good looks," Carlisle said of Parsons. "Things get tightened up then and that's when the ball has to move and find the right guy at the right time and it didn't."
But the defense after Parsons' long miss nearly paid off. Pachulia managed to pick the pocket of a Pistons player, but none of his teammates noticed the loose ball. Detroit's Reggie Jackson ended up picking it up and heaving and draining a long 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, giving the Pistons a 98-92 lead with 58 seconds left. Jackson ended up with 11 points.
"The shot Jackson hit was a lucky shot," Carlisle said. "That was unlucky for us." (More Mavs-Pistons Quoteboard here.)
Still, Nowitzki worked to draw a foul with 49 second and get to the free throw line, where he made two, cutting the lead to 98-94. And when Dallas followed that up by forcing a missed 3-pointer by Marcus Morris, who scored 20 points, the door was open again.
This time the ball got to Nowitzki in the corner, but he missed the 3-pointer. Parsons was able to tip the rebound out to Deron Williams, who then tried a quick pass back to Nowitzki. But this time Morris tipped away the pass and collided with Williams while trying to collect it. That led to Williams being called for a clear path foul, which led to a pair of Pistons free throws, after which they would get the basketball.
Morris made the second of the two free throws. After that the Mavs fouled Jackson on the inbounds pass and he made one of two free throws, giving Detroit a 100-94 lead with 20 seconds left. Dallas rebounded Jackson's miss, called timeout and set up an inbounds pass at halfcourt. But just like the Denver game on Sunday, Parsons was unable to get the ball inbounds, and this time he was called for five seconds. That ended any hope of a Mavs comeback.
The Pistons received a big night from center Andre Drummond, who scored 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. But the Mavs made a point of fouling him whenever possible and he went 5-for-14 from the free throw line. That forced the Pistons to bench the 35 percent foul shooter down the stretch so the Mavs wouldn't resort to the tactic.
Notes: Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle will probably receive a phone call from the league office, and perhaps a fine, after criticizing official David Jones' interaction with Mavs guard Deron Williams during Wednesday's game. Carlisle accused Jones of trying to bait Williams into a technical foul, saying it was the first time in his 33 years in the NBA as a player and coach that he had ever seen something like that. Jones and Williams had an animated conversation at one point during the game, and after the Mavs called timeout, Jones appeared to follow Williams near the Mavs' bench and say something before walking away. Carlisle would not tell reporters what Jones said. "But he clearly did (it)," Carlisle said. "He went out of his way. He could have walked away. I told him, 'I've got it,' and then he told me, 'No, I've got it,' and he tried to bait Deron into a T (technical) and that's not right. His job is to defuse the situation not blow it up." … Wednesday's game was the 600th Mavericks home game at the American Airlines Center. The firs Mavs' game at the AAC also came against the Detroit Pistons and the coach of the Pistons at that time was Rick Carlisle.