Earl K. Sneed reports from San Antonio, where the Mavericks fell to 2-7 without an injured Dirk Nowitzki.
SAN ANTONIO — The chips seemed staked against the Mavericks before they even took the court Friday night for a third matchup against the Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs.
Already without forward Caron Butler after his season-ending knee surgery, the Mavericks were once again undermanned as leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki missed his ninth straight game due to a sprained right knee. And after the team’s morning shootaround it appeared that matters would be even worse by game time, as center Tyson Chandler missed the morning walkthrough with a fever and sore throat.
Valiantly, however, Chandler said before the game that he would be able to give it a go, as the defensive spark plug and his teammates tried to avoid a seventh loss in their last nine games without Nowitzki in the lineup.
Still, if the Mavericks were going to pick up just their third victory since Nowitzki went down on Dec. 27 then coach Rick Carlisle said that it would take a collective effort to slow down the team with the NBA’s best record.
“We’re right now the epitome of having to be a true team. And we’re gonna have to play with depth,” Carlisle said.
But with the odds already against the Mavericks (26-12), it wouldn’t take long for the scoreboard to also lean in favor of the Spurs. And by night’s end the Mavericks would find themselves on the downside of a 101-89 final score, losing their fourth straight game overall.
“A lot of things went wrong,” Carlisle said after the loss. “The first three quarters were very difficult. We were playing a great team who is playing extremely well and we just got outplayed. And so there’s not much more to say than that.”
“We’re missing that little edge we had,” forward Shawn Marion added. “We would find a way with that edge to get to these wins. We’ve lost that right now, and we’ve got to find a way to get that back … You could say that as soon as Dirk comes back it could come back as well, but it might not. We’ve still got to weather the storm.”
The Mavericks hoped to show their depth from the opening tip, with big man Alexis Ajinca getting the start in Nowitzki’s place as the first-string power forward for the second straight game. But Spurs point guard Tony Parker controlled the tempo early while San Antonio’s big men feasted inside. And despite the efforts of point guard Jason Kidd and sixth man Jason Terry, the Mavericks found themselves down by eight, 27-19, after one quarter of play.
San Antonio’s role players quickly opened up a double-digit advantage early in the second quarter with outside shooting. And as the Mavericks struggled to defend the Spurs’ 3-point shooters, the Dallas deficit reached as much as 20. The Mavericks then heading into the locker room trailing, 57-42, at the halftime break.
Terry’s nine first-half points wasn’t enough to combat Parker’s 12 points to lead all scorers at the midway point. Meanwhile, the Spurs’ 3-point attack connected on 5-of-9 from deep as they outshot the Mavericks through two quarters, 47 percent to 41 percent.
“Tonight, they hit some threes and the momentum swung just off their threes,” Marion said.
“They hit some shots that were not easy shots,” Carlisle added. “But they are capable of doing that, so it’s just one of the things that you’ve got to deal with.”
Looking for more offense, Carlisle switched to a three-guard lineup to start the second half, with Ajinca sitting while reserve guard J.J. Barea joined Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson in the backcourt. But after Chandler picked up his fourth and fifth fouls of the night, the Mavericks had to turn to backup center Brendan Haywood to secure the inside.
And although Marion elevated his play in the third period, the Mavericks continued to face a big disadvantage on the scoreboard. Marion’s output wasn’t enough to keep the Mavericks from heading into the final quarter with the Spurs (34-6) firmly holding a commanding 85-61 lead.
“There’s not a lot of positive stuff to say about the first three quarters of the game. They were just better,” Carlisle said.
With all reserves on the court for the Mavs to start the fourth and final quarter, the game concluded with Dallas’ main contributors on the bench resting in preparation for the second half of a back-to-back when the team travels to Memphis for Saturday night’s divisional showdown with the Grizzlies. Meanwhile, rookie Dominique Jones led the charge as the Mavericks finished the game with a late flurry to make the final verdict respectable.
“I liked our fourth quarter. I liked the guys that were in there and how they played. Dominique Jones has been working really hard, and he showed that he has been working hard. So, I like what he did in the fourth,” Carlisle said with praise for the first-year guard.
“Just like I said from my D-League experience, every time I get out there I’m just gonna play hard and be aggressive. I’m just trying to get better every time I step on the court,” Jones added.
But despite the fact that all 12 active Mavericks played and scored at least two points, only three produced in double figures. Marion recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Barea added 13 points to go along with Jones’ career-high 13 points.
At the other end of the court, Parker shared game-high honors with DeJuan Blair with 18 points apiece as four Spurs scored in double figures. Blair added a season-high 13 rebounds as the Spurs finished the night with a 52-39 edge on the boards.
“Look, they’re a great rebounding team,” Carlisle explained. “They’re a great defensive rebounding team, and it was a huge disparity, so we didn’t get it done … As much as the rebounding was a factor, the threes going in were probably a bigger factor.”
After their hot start, the Spurs’ 3-point shooting cooled to finish the night at 6-of-16 from behind the arc, compared to 6-of-13 from long range for the Mavericks. Still, the Spurs outshot the Mavericks, 45 percent to 43 percent, in addition to a 20-7 San Antonio advantage in fast-break points.
The Spurs now hold a 2-1 lead in the season series with a final showdown taking place at the American Airlines Center on March 18.
Now, however, the Mavericks will try to turn around their fortunes on a quick turnaround, heading into Memphis less than 24 hours after the loss in San Antonio for a third battle with the Grizzles, a team that split the first two games of the season series. Both squads have won on the other’s home floor.
“Tomorrow is a must-win,” Chandler emphatically said. “Plain and simple, however you want to put it. On the road, back-to-back, it’s a must-win for us right now.”
And after a workout Friday morning that received positive feedback from the Mavericks’ training staff, signs appear to be pointing to a return for Nowitzki as soon as Saturday night. But if the longest stretch in his career of consecutive missed games due to injury continues for the 7-footer, Carlisle says that his confidence in the team’s supporting cast will not waver.
“I’m a big believer in this group, I just am. I mean, we’re going through a tough stretch right now, we’re taking our hits, and it’s no fun, but I’m a believer,” Carlisle said. “Right now, we’re circling the wagons and we’ve got to make a stand. And it’s pretty much as simple as that.”
“The good thing is we know how good we’re capable of being,” Chandler added. “We didn’t start this stretch until we lost two of our key players. And I think that’s a tough thing to swallow. I think if you take two star players off of any team then they’re gonna go through a stretch like what we’re going through. So, this isn’t anything that anybody else in the league wouldn’t go through. The thing that we’ve got to do at this time is stick together and we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Note: The Mavericks will make a third stop on their current four-game road trip when they touch down in Memphis Saturday night for the second game of a back-to-back. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest.
After finishing up their road trip, the Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center Jan. 19 to host the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. It will be the first time the two teams play this season. That game will tip off at 8 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
Stay connected with Dallas Mavericks inside reporter Earl K. Sneed by clicking "like" on his Facebook page or by following him on Twitter. Got a question for EKS? Send your question, along with your first name, last initial, city and state with the subject line "Ask EKS" to email@example.com, and you could be published on Mavsfastbreak.com, the Mavericks' new official blog site.
Create your own ticket plan with the Mavs Stretch Run Plan! Select from as few as six games or as many as 15, including great matchups against the Lakers, Spurs and many more! The plan also includes an option to purchase playoff tickets. Seats are limited so act fast! Visit mavs.com or call 214.747.MAVS to take advantage of this limited time offer!
Individual game tickets are on sale now. Tickets start as low as $2 and can be purchased at the American Airlines Center box office, on Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287). Get in on the action and be there for all the thrills!
Fans can visit Mavs.com or call 214.747.MAVS for more information and a complete listing of regular-season home games.