The Los Angeles Lakers were sans two starters. The break-even mark was in sight. Razors were, too. Beat the Lakers and that precious No. 8 postseason position is that much closer to grasp.
So much for all that. Dallas, down to eight games left in the regular season, is now 2 1/2 games back of LA after Tuesday night’s 101-81 thud at Staples. That’s a bigger problem than just the simple arithmetic of chasing the Lakers.
The Lakers are in ninth place. The Mavs (36-38) still need to pass the Lakers AND the Utah Jazz. At minimum, it’s looking like a 7-1 or 6-2 finish is needed just to have a realistic shot at that final West spot.
Dallas’ closing schedule includes three more road games in the next week. Outside of two matchups with Denver and another against Memphis, the other five games appear immensely winnable. But the margin of error is nearly down to nil.
That’s why the four quarters surrounding the Shaq jersey retirement were so important. This was the last best chance for the Mavericks to have some control over their destiny. They need serious help from both the Lakers and Jazz to extend the Dallas playoff streak to 13 years.
The Mavericks didn’t have to approach Yu Darvish-like perfection (or near perfection) to beat a flawed Lakers bunch. Kobe’s crew had dropped four of six coming in, regressing to that level of blah-like inconsistency they’ve carried all season. The Lakers were without 40 percent of their starting lineup with Steve Nash and Metta World Peace sidelined.
What the Mavericks did need is the Dirk Nowitzki we saw in March. The Dirk that’s picked up his teammates, carried them on his back and turned a lost season into meaningful games down the stretch. If not meaningful, at least interesting and entertaining.
Nowitzki was about as effective as Brittney Griner in her last collegiate outing. (Mark Cuban, by the way, is open to giving the former Baylor great a tryout. I say go for it.) Dirk didn’t amaze in downtown LA.
It’s not fair to expect 35 points on 14-of-17 shooting, as Nowitzki did Saturday in willing Dallas past Chicago in improbable fashion. Fair or not that’s what the Mavericks needed out of No. 41 in their biggest game of the year.
Instead, the final Dirk line read 11 points on 4-of-13 from the floor. He scored one point in the fourth quarter. One.
The other Hall of Famer on the court did show up. The Lakers got 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists out of Kobe Bryant. The Mavs should have been able to live with a triple-double out of Mamba. Dallas also got Earl Clarked in the first half and again in the third quarter. Earl Clark?
The ultimate insult: Dwight Howard icing the triumph at the foul line in the fourth. Nowitzki made two of his six free throws. Howard hit half of his 20.
It was all there for the Dallas Mavericks. It feels like it’s all gone.