DALLAS — It appears that Dirk is back and the Dallas Mavericks are done.
In consecutive games, Dirk Nowitzki has put up a combined 51 points and 33 rebounds, yet his team squandered fourth-quarter leads at home in both. Sunday’s loss to the Lakers felt like a gut punch; Tuesday’s 95-90 loss to Milwaukee, with Nowitzki going for 21 points and 20 rebounds — his first 20-20 game in a decade — was like a dagger to Dallas’ diminishing playoff hopes.
A 14-4 closing run by the Bucks sealed the game and just might have finished the Mavs’ franchise-record streak of 12 consecutive playoff appearances, the second-longest active streak behind the San Antonio Spurs (15 in a row).
“Yeah, I mean, it’s not looking good for sure,” Nowitzki said, his beard growing thicker as .500 drifts farther from Dallas’ reach. “Obviously this league is crazy and I’ve seen a lot, but this is definitely getting tight, and if we want to make a push we’ve just go to find a way to win those close games.”
With its 20-turnover loss Tuesday, Dallas (25-31, now five games behind eighth-place Houston) ended a critical stretch of seven of eight games at home. They went 4-3 there with their lone win over a winning team coming against sliding Golden State. Losses to Atlanta, the Lakers and Milwaukee came by four, four and five points, respectively. Late-game execution, an Achilles’ heel all season, was the culprit in each crushing defeat.
Nowitzki, who saw his All-Star Game streak snapped this season at 11 in a row, knows his chances of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000 are rising.
Now comes a stretch of seven of their next eight games on the road, starting tonight at red-hot Memphis (8 ET, League Pass).
“If we can’t pull it out at home, then what’s the confidence level going on the road?” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got eight of our next 10 on the road, so we haven’t shown that we really can consistently pull close games out at home, so it’s going to be tough on the road. We’re going to try, I mean I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, keep pushing and hopefully one of these days we can pull one out and it can get us going.”
Prior to the game, owner Mark Cuban acknowledged that this season has been his toughest. After the game, coach Rick Carlisle, hoping to avoid only his second losing season in his 11th as a coach, tried to drum up optimism.
He stressed that the Mavs haven’t been able to sustain intensity and focus to finish off games. Asked if he believed that can change on the road (where Dallas is 9-19), a mostly soft-spoken Carlisle perked up.
“Listen, we’re due, we’re due,” he said. “Nobody in this league has set themselves up for most improved more than us. Really, I’m going to keep believing in these guys, all right? That’s not going to change. My enthusiasm’s not going to change. What has to change is decision-making on the floor, and I’ll keep perusing the whole thing and I’ll figure out what I got to do.
“Maybe I’ve got to sub a little differently, I don’t know. But whatever it is, we’ve got another game in 22 hours and I’m fired up for that one.”
Hopefully his team is, too.