After such a thing of beauty on Wednesday when every shot seemed to go in and the Mavericks cruised to a runaway victory, Friday was something completely different.
More like water torture – a slow, agonizing pain.
And after the Mavericks dropped a tough-to-watch 107-91 decision to the same New Orleans Pelicans team they had walloped two nights earlier, there was no shortage of hot topics in the postgame breadown.
The long laundry list of issues – rebounding, defense and the overall lack of mental toughness were obvious problems – was long as the Mavericks lost their third home game in a row.
Making matters worse was the way superstar point guard Luka Dončić was roughed up during much of a physical game was something that left the Mavericks frustrated, but also cost them on the court, both Dončić and coach Jason Kidd said.
Dončić spent a lot of the night getting hacked, doubled over in pain, rubbing his head and neck after hard hits in the paint. Then he would follow that with commentary on the refs.
“I would lean toward playing five-on-five a little bit more,” Kidd said of how the interactions with referees impacted the Mavericks. “Officials tend not to stop the game and change calls. So you have to understand. There’s a point in time in games, dead balls, to be able to talk to officials.
“But while the game is going on, transition defense is one of the things we’ve talked about. We have to get back. If we’re lobbying for calls during live play, it puts us in harm’s way.”
The Mavericks gave up 19 fast-break points on Friday. During Wednesday’s 139-107 blowout of the Pelicans in New Orleans, they surrendered just six fast-break points.
“Some things have to be a little more important,” Kidd said. “We’re going to get better as a team when to talk to officials and when not to, not just Luka.”
Dončić couldn’t have agreed more with his coach. But he also knows what is going on out on the court, where he received a lot of physical wear and tear in this game.
“Yeah, 100 percent . . . he’s got a point,” Dončić said of Kidd’s assessment. He then added when asked about the physical play: “I think you guys could see it. I’ll leave it there.”
The Mavericks were fine in this game for a half, even though they weren’t making shots. Their defense was strong for 24 minutes and they owned a 48-44 halftime lead.
But things went south in a hurry in the third quarter.
“That game was on me,” Dončić said. “My energy was down. I played very bad. I just got to be better than that.”
Kidd’s assessment – one that he’s delivered many times through the first 21 games of the season – was that the Mavericks have to maintain a strong focus and mental and physical disposition if they are going to survive fickle shooting.
“We’re built to play offense,” Kidd said, perhaps trying to get his team’s attention about their lapses in defensive focus. “We’re not built to play defense. We’re built to shoot the ball. And when the ball’s not being shot straight, we tend to feel bad for ourselves.
“But the funny thing is that our opponent doesn’t feel for ourselves. So we have to get out of that mode, understanding no one is going to shoot 100 percent and that we have to help each other on the defensive end.
“If not, we’re going to be up and down all season and hope that someone can carry us, like Luka or KP (Kristaps Porzingis) and that’s just not fair to those guys.”
To that, Dončić said: “We just got to play better. I wouldn’t say offense or defense. We’re built to win. Sometimes it’s going to be offensively, sometimes it’s going to be defensively.”
While this game could not have been any different than Wednesday’s in New Orleans, it counts the same in the standings, just on the other side of the ledger for the Mavericks.
They fell to 11-10 and are now a half-game behind the Memphis Grizzlies that will be at American Airlines Center on Saturday night.
The third quarter was a disaster for the Mavericks. The Pelicans shot 68.4 percent in the period, more than making up for their horrid first-half shooting. The Mavericks, meanwhile, were 8-for-22 in the third quarter (36.4 percent) and 3-of-12 from 3-point range.
When New Orleans scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, it was 85-68 and the Mavericks were in desperation mode.
They tried to mount a rally as the fourth-quarter clock began to dwindle.
The Mavericks played without Porzingis, who sat out with a left knee contusion. Willie Cauley-Stein also was out tending to a personal matter. That left the Mavericks a bit short-staffed at center and power forward.
They did survive a scare, however, in the first half when Tim Hardaway went down and had to retreat to the locker room. He returned before halftime, despite a right quad contusion.