A new-look Mavericks’ team still has some bad habits that they can’t seem to break.

They welcomed back Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith to the starting lineup after missing nine games, and while that was uplifting for the Mavericks, it couldn’t mask the bigger issues.

Horrible rebounding, sloppy defense and an out-of-rhythm offense conspired to put the Mavericks in a 21-point halftime hole and they never recovered as the Utah Jazz rolled to their 10th consecutive victory, 116-104, Wednesday night at Salt Lake City.

It was the first of two games in Utah for the Mavericks and the good news is that Friday’s rematch can’t get any worse. The Mavericks were down by 25 points late in the third quarter before garbage time allowed them to get the score more respectable.

The Mavericks are struggling, pure and simple. And the rugged Western Conference offers no pity, especially not from the red-hot Jazz.

The Mavericks now own a three-game losing streak for the second time this season, have lost six of their last eight and fell to 8-10 overall, two games behind eighth-place San Antonio in the Western Conference standings.

So are the Mavericks just out of rhythm as they try to assimilate players back from the COVID-19 health and safety protocols?

“You don’t need rhythm to play defense and have a strong disposition and communicate and those kind of things,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We weren’t doing that, particularly in the first half. The second half was better, but we got to be better at the start of the game.”

The Mavericks, who had given up 70 points in the first half in each of their previous two games, couldn’t improve much on that as Utah was up 69-48 at the break and the Mavericks were showing scant signs of life.

“I don’t know what to say, there’s a lot of things wrong,” said Luka Dončić, who had 30 points but wasn’t his usual active self with only six assists and four rebounds. “We’re just not ourselves right now. And we got to pick it up and be way better than this.

“We just got to play harder, that’s it. Just bring more energy and play harder.”

The rebounding department summed up everything. They lost the glass battle 50-36. But at halftime it was 30-12 in favor of the Jazz. On one possession, they got four offensive rebounds, the final one a putback dunk Rudy Gobert, who racked up 29 points and 20 rebounds.

“The first half was a killer,” Carlisle said. “We didn’t come out with enough force, enough disposition. They were great and we did not play well.”

The Jazz, by the way, were playing without leading scorer Donovan Mitchell (concussion protocol) and his 23.5 points per game. Joe Ingles replaced Mitchell in the lineup (the first time this season the Jazz have changed their starting lineup) and had 21 points and eight assists. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench with 31points, adding fuel to the flames that he is the early leader for sixth man of the year.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, had gotten Richardson, Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell back from three weeks on the shelf. While the more hands on deck, the better, they clearly had trouble getting their legs back under them.

“I thought they gave what they could give,” Carlisle said. “It’s tough. But this is a beginning for them. Certainly tonight is going to be an important step in getting them back from a conditioning standpoint. We just got to build on it from here.”

The Mavericks are sort of starting over with the returning players. Richardson, for instance, had never been on the court this season with Kristaps Porzingis.

And it’s going to take time now to get on the same page – not that that’s an excuse for not playing as hard as they should be playing.

“We don’t have that chemistry yet, that we’re looking for,” Porzingis said. “We don’t have our roles clear, I think. We’re just kind of out there playing. We’re a talented group, but until we have everybody playing together and having also some time together off the court, we won’t really have that chemistry.

“So, it’s just a rough night for us. I think we got to start realizing who we are, realizing our roles each, individually. And move forward. Keep talking about things that we need to work on, and keep growing. Hopefully we’re heading in that direction.”

As Tim Hardaway Jr. said about the return of the players who had to go through quarantine: “It was great. I was just happy that they’re healthy with everything going on with the virus. It seems like everybody’s best defense is the virus at this point in time. If it affects your team, it shows. We’re a perfect example of that. But like I’ve been saying before, it’s next man up. But we’re happy that those guys are back and healthy.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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