Grizzlies drop crucial game against Mavs

Memphis continues to struggle against the Southwest Division and after a 110-96 loss to the Mavericks, they find themselves on the outside of the playoff chase.

Zach Randolph had 26 points and nine rebounds against Dallas.

Lance Murphey / AP

MEMPHIS -- Memphis had a chance Wednesday to break even with Dallas for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Let the chase continue. The Mavericks broke a five-game losing streak at FedExForum with a 110-96 win and short-handed Memphis fell to 2-11 against the Southwest Division. Here are three observations from the game.

1. Defense won the Super Bowl. Offense won for the Mavericks.

Since Memphis center Marc Gasol returned to the lineup, Memphis entered the night as top defensive team in the NBA, a 94.3 rating. In the same span of games, Dallas was first in offensive rating (114.2).  Memphis had also held its last seven opponents to 90 points or fewer, the longest streak by any NBA team this season and one shy of a franchise record. 

So much for that. Dallas did what Dallas does, score. And without point guard Mike Conley, still out indefinitely with an ankle sprain, Memphis will find it tough to improve on its spot as the 25th-ranked scoring team in the NBA.

"It is one of those nights," Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said. "We've got to play better. We're better, especially trying to get where we're trying to get."

Dallas did it while taking a page from Memphis' book, outscoring the Grizzlies in the paint, 56-32. The Mavericks finished with 16 second-chance points and Memphis turned the ball over 17 times, a bad combo against a high-octane team, the league's seventh-highest scoring team at 104.6 points per game. Memphis has to rely on its resurfaced defense that seemingly took a smoke break Wednesday.

"They have a counter for everything you try to do to them," Gasol said. "They burned us with everything we tried to do, especially in the fourth."

Memphis led by three at the break. Each team had five players in double figures, led by 26 from Dirk Nowitzki and 25 from Randolph. But the Dallas bench outscored Memphis 43-21. James Johnson had all but Kosta Koufos' four for Memphis' reserves. Samuel Dalembert had just his second double-double of the season, 14 points, 10 rebounds for the Mavs.

"Defensively we were awful," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. "We had too much space to close out to."

There was ugly offense, too. Memphis starting forward Tayshaun Prince played 23 minutes with zero points on 0-for-3 shooting.

Memphis is now 3-14 when allowing 100 or more points.

2. Just how important are the next five Grizzlies' games?

Joerger called the next five games the biggest five of the year -- starting Saturday at Atlanta.  

"You've got to play one at a time," Gasol said. "It doesn't matter. You cannot play four games. The last five games were real important. Every game is important. There's no games in the NBA that are not important."

All of the next five games are against the Eastern Conference. Winning in the weaker side of the league is a must, complicated by the fact that Dallas now owns the season series against the Grizzlies in a conference that likes to get determined by the smallest of margins in the final days of the season.

"This is a game tonight worth two," Joerger said. "It's a tough time for us to play without Mike Conley and Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter, but it is what it is. Otherwise, you're going to come into the last 30 games and say, 'Geez, we've got to go 21-9.' This is important."

Memphis (26-22) has been shorthanded in two of the losses to Dallas (29-21). Conley, Prince and Gasol were all out of the second meeting. Conley and Tony Allen were out Wednesday, Allen still out with a left wrist sprain that is producing questions about why it is taking so long to heal.

"I'm a realistic guy. Conley is having a fantastic year, probably deserved to be an All-Star. We caught a break almost every time we played them," Nowitzki said, "but you've still got to win those games."

Memphis also goes to Cleveland and Orlando and hosts Washington and New York before the Clippers visit on Feb. 21.

3. The weird play that ended the half -- and took two away from James Johnson.

With 10 second left in the first half, Memphis inbounded the ball with a three-point lead and Johnson drove the floor and scored before the buzzer.

It would have been his 13th point of the period, but after reviewing the play, officials ruled the clocked started late. They eventually discounted the basket. 

Joerger was asked about the unusual event.

"The explanation given to me ... and fines will be paid by you?" Joerger asked Grizzlies personnel, then smiled.

Joerger said the explanation given to him was that officials had to physically time it. Whatever time was left after the physical timing, Johnson's bucket was ruled after that amount.

"To which my argument would be, 'He would have shot it earlier,'" Joerger said, then laughed. "They administered it well and didn't have anything to do with the game."