Sometimes, it takes the worst kind of loss to bring some clarity to a struggling team’s situation.

Consider this the worst.

The Mavericks clearly have a lot more troubles than just figuring out how to win on their home floor as they got whipped 121-107 by the lowly Sacramento Kings Sunday night at American Airlines Center.

Lowly? Hard to argue with that description. The Kings hauled a nine-game losing streak into Dallas, but never trailed against the Mavericks, dominating long stretches of the game.

Did we mention that the Kings have the worst defensive rating in the NBA?

And yet, the Mavericks could muster only 20 first-quarter points as another slow start put them squarely behind the 8-ball, a position they could not escape.

The Mavericks have lost five of their last seven games overall and it’s not realistic right now to be talking about moving up in the Western Conference standings. Fear of moving down? That’s another subject.

“Really just a poor performance from the beginning,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

And yet, from this rubble, Carlisle said that it will be easy to identify just exactly what is wrong with the Mavericks right now.

“There’s been some soul-searching over the last five games,” he said. “We’ve talked about some things.

“Of course there’s concern. But I think this game brings the issues into way sharper focus. We’ve got to get ourselves back on track, just from a process standpoint. We’ve got to win games. That’s our job, to win games. But the process of how we do it is really important. And that’s hard, physical and mental disposition to start the game, and really it’s both ends of the floor. It’s not just defense and rebounding. Offensively you’ve got to play with force, too.”

The Kings deserve some of the credit. They didn’t play like a team on a nine-game losing streak. They ran up 45 points in the second quarter, led by 21 in the third and staved off the Mavericks every time they tried to rally in the fourth quarter.

De’Aaron Fox had 30 points and old friend Harrison Barnes had 24.

But for the Mavericks, it was more about looking inward.

“We didn’t come out hard,” said Luka Dončić, who had 37 points that seemed hollow at the end. “That’s what happened a couple games now. I got to be way better. We got to play way harder. I got to play way harder.

“We got to play harder and bring more energy. All I know is it’s got to start with me. I got to do way better keeping us motivated. It starts with me.”

It was interesting that the Mavericks’ best moments against the Kings came in the third quarter – with both Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis on the bench.

The reserves, led by Jalen Brunson, sparked the Mavericks to cut an 80-59 deficit down to 10 going into the final 12 minutes.

But the Mavericks could never get it below six points in the fourth quarter. Falling behind by double figures in the first quarter and by 17 at halftime doomed the Mavericks.

“We got to start the game off with a little more energy,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, who was sharp from the 3-point arc (6-of-8) but like the rest of the Mavericks couldn’t stop the Kings defensively. “We can’t wait to get hit first. We got to come out with that fight from the beginning.

“We just got to be a little better. We’re a better team when we come out flying around. And I think the last couple games, we haven’t been coming out with the energy like we know we can. We can compete with anybody. We got the talent.”

Lately, they haven’t shown it, though.

And their recent slide has left them with a 30-26 record, just a half-game ahead of eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference. The two are tied in the loss column.

At this point, looking over their shoulder at the teams behind them is more of a concern than trying to catch Portland or anybody else ahead of them.

But at the least, the Mavericks’ Sunday night debacle left them with a clear picture of what’s wrong with them.

“It’s coming more and more into focus,” Carlisle said. “It’s really the essence of where we are.”

They’ll have until Wednesday when Detroit visits AAC to figure out how to get back to the way they need to be playing.

Twitter: @ESefko


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