Just like having the coronavirus puts doubt in your mind – like, is this going to get worse before it gets better? – losing NBA games allows doubt to creep into any team’s collective psyche.

The Mavericks have lost three in a row for the second time this month and they have slid down the Western Conference standings to where they need a hot streak to be playoff-relevant again.

It’s all traceable to their defense, or lack of it, which is what coach Rick Carlisle and his staff addressed at practice in Salt Lake City on Thursday in between games against Utah.

The Mavericks were pretty solid defensively for the first two weeks of the season. But since Jan. 7, they have been getting progressively worse with their defensive rating, which was 20th in the league on Thursday.

It comes down to hard work and focus.

“Our attention to detail and concentration has to be better,” Carlisle said. “Utah is elite, offensively and defensively. They make it hard for you to get shots and make it hard for you to stop them. It’s disposition, it’s attention to detail and we just got to be tied together. We’re not going to make excuses about COVID protocols. That stuff is there. But this is just a period we’ve got to fight through as a team.”

Asked if effort was a problem, Carlisle said: “We got to be more consistent with our posture and our disposition and our intensity, no question about it.”

The Mavericks have surrendered at least 112 points in eight consecutive games. They are 2-6 in that stretch. Before that, they were 6-4 and had given up 112 points just four times.

“There’s a lot of things we need to work on, offensively and defensively – defensively especially,” Dwight Powell said. “That’s what we’re going to focus on, not only our effort, but attention to all the details of the game and supporting each other.

“We spent some time talking about it and trying to make sure we support each other and bring effort in the right places.”

It’s not going to get any easier. The Mavericks play the second of two games against streaking Utah (10 wins in a row) Friday night at Salt Lake City.

They then come home for two games against Phoenix, which is vastly improved this season with the addition of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder.

But first, they have to try to show some backbone against the Jazz, who wore out the Mavericks with their pick-and-roll offense that rolled up 69 points and a 21-point lead in the first half.

“That’s their game and they do it very well,” Carlisle said. “We’re just going to have to play all their situations with more force and more presence. That’s the bottom line. They’re too good, they’re skilled, they screen well, they space well. It’s a difficult task, but we can certainly do better.”

They’ll have to, or doubt will continue to hound them.

Another point of emphasis — the 3-ball: The Mavericks on Thursday were officially last in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 33.2 percent.

For a team that leans heavily on the long ball, this is a disturbing trend that now has become a significant issue.

“We are getting some good looks, and we would like to get better ones, for sure,” Carlisle said. “Part of (Thursday’s) practice was working on that. We’re going through the process. The three guys that just came back are working on getting their rhythm. Last night was a good start toward that, I believe.

“We just got to take a lot of threes in practice and simulating and just keep working.”

Maxi Kleber, who has yet to return from COVID-19 protocols, was one of the team’s most effective 3-point shooters before he was sidelined. So was Jalen Brunson.

But the harsh reality is that the Mavericks have a lot of capable 3-point shooters who have slumped through most of the first 18 games.

While the Mavericks don’t blame the COVID-19 outbreak, it certainly has had an impact.

“In the NBA, one guy in your rotation can really cause an issue, let alone three or four,” Carlisle said. “But we got to work through that stuff.

Welcome back: Even though the three returning players from COVID-19 protocols weren’t particularly sharp, having them back was a welcomed sight.

And it was a beginning as Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Richardson and Powell got their first game action in 20 days.

“Those three are competitive guys, so it won’t take that long to get the juices flowing collectively,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “We haven’t played together. We haven’t had our full roster on the floor, not one time this year. That’s no excuse, but at the same time, it’s tough. But if it was easy, everybody would do it.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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