The Mavericks have done a fine job the last two months of finding some difficult wins that can make up for so many regrettable losses earlier in the season.
Now, they have to find at least one more unexpected victory to make up for Wednesday’s meltdown in Houston.
The Mavericks looked nothing like the team that beat the best team in the league two nights earlier, losing to the Houston Rockets 102-93 at Toyota Center. The Mavericks’ five-game winning streak came to a shocking halt.
Bear in mind Houston had gone 2-27 since Feb. 4.
For a team that is trying desperately to fight its way into the top six in the Western Conference, it was a painful loss. At 28-22, they slipped a bit further behind Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver in the chase for playoff positioning.
“Portland lost (Tuesday), and we needed this win,” said Tim Hardaway Jr. “So yes, it does put us back a little bit. We got to move forward. We just got to make sure we take care of business from here on out.”
Losing to the Rockets is something only Minnesota and Toronto have done in the last two months.
And now, the Mavericks.
They trailed virtually the whole way, yet were tied at 89 with just over two minutes to play. But the Rockets rattled off nine consecutive points as John Wall had 31 points and Christian Wood (22 points) and Kelly Olynyk (18 rebounds) both contributed mightily.
This was a bad loss, clearly, especially after the Mavericks had beaten Utah on Monday, ending the Jazz’s nine-game winning streak.
“We played a horrible game as a team,” said Luka Dončić. “We just got to flush it out. My threes weren’t falling today, so maybe I should have driven it. Anybody can have a bad game. It was a bad game for us, a horrible game for me.”
Dončić had 23 points and nine rebounds, but he turned the ball over five times and shot just 9-of-26 from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range.
He had plenty of company as the Mavericks shot just 37.9 percent overall and 25.6 percent from 3-point land.
“We lost the first three quarters and that put us up against it,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Wall obviously really hurt us with threes and twos and key free throws at the end. Disappointing loss. It makes it more difficult without (Maxi) Kleber and stuff like that, but we’ve got to be better at the beginning of the game and carry it through and we didn’t do that.”
Dončić seemed a bit off-kilter all game and when Carlisle asked if it was a frustrating night for the superstar point guard, he said: “Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment. I don’t really know what to add to that. The officials aren’t perfect. There’s some missed calls probably, both ways.
“We did a great job of getting the thing tied. And then it’s just unfortunate that we weren’t able to get that next stop and get another score. Because getting the lead would have been an important thing to do in the last two minutes.”
The Mavericks were down 12-2 in the first three minutes and while they recovered to take a brief lead in the second quarter, they were fighting from behind almost all night.
“They outworked us – from the beginning of the game to the end of the game, point blank,” Hardaway said.
And yet, the game was within reach late.
The Rockets had led by 13 late in the third quarter, but reverted to their normal ways, fouling on two 3-point shots and that helped the Mavericks rally into a tie at 89 on a Dorian Finney-Smith 3-pointer.
The Rockets got a second-chance bucket from Wall with 2 minutes left to go up 91-89.
That was the first of their nine consecutive points as Dončić missed a 3-pointer, and then Wall’s three-point play rebuilt the lead to 94-89. The Mavericks couldn’t stop the bleeding at that point.
It was a sour way to end the winning streak.
Wasted was a nice return to action by Kristaps Porzingis after he missed Monday’s game to rest a sprained right wrist that has been giving him problems. Porzingis had 23 points and 12 rebounds.
However, Kleber (lower leg) and Trey Burke (calf) both were out.