After a rugged, emotional game that came down to the last play but probably shouldn’t have, the Mavericks knew they had only themselves to blame.
They played with fire and got burned Tuesday night as the Washington Wizards, minus the injured Kristaps Porzingis, took a wild 127-126 victory at American Airlines Center.
The Mavericks had troubles defensively all night and in the end, one defensive play by the Wizards kept the Mavericks from a potential game-winning shot.
Luka Dončić, who finished with 41 points, hit a short bank shot with 36.5 seconds left, then poked the ball away from Bradley Beal and got loose on a fast break. He was fouled before he could get a layup try to go, but Dončić hit just one of two free throws, leaving the game tied at 126.
The Wizards had 10.8 seconds to work with. Kyle Kuzma got caught on the right sideline and heaved a pass/shot toward the backboard, but the whistle blew, calling Dončić for a foul.
The Mavericks challenged it. But the call was upheld, giving Kuzma, who had 29 points by then, two shots. He made only the second with 5 seconds left and the Mavericks had a final shot, trailing by a slim point.
That final shot never came.
They got the ball to Luka, and the Wizards sent a quick double-team. The pass to Spencer Dinwiddie was deflected by former Maverick Delon Wright and the Wizards pitched the ball to the other end of the court to preserve their third victory in a row.
“We knew they were going to double,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We cleared the side. It was Spencer’s ball to shoot. We just couldn’t connect the pass. Give the Wizards credit. We knew with the double team we’d have the advantage. We just couldn’t connect the pass to Spencer. They played the play well.”
Luka’s missed free throw with 12.5 to go was another source of frustration, causing him to rip his jersey afterward.
Said Luka of the last play: “I lost the ball. That’s it. I was mad because I missed the free throw. And then I lost the ball, too. This one was on me.”
Asked about his frustration level as the Mavericks have lost eight of 11, he said: “We’re just not getting the wins. That’s it. We let a couple of games go.”
The Mavericks fell to 25-24 and pretty much botched this four-game homestand, going 1-3 against competition that included nobody in the top five of either conference. They play eight of their remaining 11 games before the All-Star break on the road, starting Thursday in Phoenix.
Luka finished with 15 rebounds to go with his 41 points and Dinwiddie had 20 points.
And while the two couldn’t connect on the final play, that was not the source of their frustration postgame.
“We shouldn’t be in a game like that,” Dinwiddie said. “They got two max players (Porzingis and Bradley Beal) and one is hurt. We should be able to stop them enough so that our 126 points beats their 125 or less. That’s really all it comes down to.
“We just got to be better in that respect. They’re not playing for nothing. For a team that has real aspirations, has an MVP (candidate) and went to the conference finals last year, we have to be better, to a man. Obviously, we needed one more stop, but we should have had, like, 15 more stops.”
The Wizards shot 50.6 percent and went to the free-throw line 41 times.
Said Dinwiddie: “We got to do a better job overall of controlling the controllables. We can’t get on the refs. We gave up 41 free throws. They got two max players over there and one of them is hurt. There’s no reason to give up 41 free throws. So that’s on us.”
The Mavericks were down 115-110 with under seven minutes to go. They got a three-point play by Dwight Powell to get them jump-started.
Powell was a rock for the Mavericks in the second half and would finish with a season-best 22 points. His three-point play tied it at 115. But the Wizards scored the next four points, including two on free throws when the Mavericks were whistled for a “take” foul and a technical on Jason Kidd.
Down 119-115, they got a layup from Powell on a nice feed from Tim Hardaway Jr. and then Dončić converted a three-point playto put the Mavericks up 120-119.
The problem was there were still more than two minutes to go.
And what a two minutes it was.
It was a lot different than the Mavericks’ Nov. 10 visit to Washington when the Wizards were missing Porzingis and Bradley Beal. The Mavericks still lost, 113-105.
This time, the Wizards were without Porzingis again. And they traded Rui Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday. It was Hachimura who had 23 points and eight rebounds in the November game.
On Tuesday, it was a more diverse cast causing problems for the Mavericks.
But in the end, it was their defense that felt like a self-inflicted wound.