Struggling Mavs, Suns meet, try to get on track

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, two teams struggling to gain some positive traction this season, enter Monday night’s matchup on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

The Mavs (8-22) were minutes away from a road victory Saturday at San Antonio before the Spurs went on a 13-0 run to steal a game Dallas controlled throughout. At the same time, the Suns (10-21) earned a rare come-from-behind road win at Minnesota.

Now, Dallas needs a win over the Suns to avoid already a fifth losing streak of at least five games this season, while Phoenix looks to notch consecutive victories for the first time since mid-November.

After the Mavs’ gut-punch loss Saturday, coach Rick Carlisle gave the team Sunday off to reflect and recuperate on a loss in which Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green sat out for the Spurs.

Dallas has been playing better of late — including a win over the Spurs last Tuesday — but just can’t shake making critical crunch-time mistakes that have turned a handful of would-be wins into a lump of frustrating losses.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle called the end of the 98-96 defeat at San Antonio, in which Dallas turned it over trying to get the ball inbounds that led to a Manu Ginobili game-winning drive and layup, “unforgivable.”

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki told reporters after the game. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds, letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Dallas played a fifth consecutive game without rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. because of a strained left hip. Smith, who is averaging 14.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game, is questionable for Monday’s game.

The injury-depleted Suns got a much-needed boost from their newly acquired point guard, Isaiah Canaan, to squeak out the win on the road, where Phoenix is 6-9, two more wins than they have at home.

Canaan made three free throws with six seconds left to take the lead against the Timberwolves. It was part of a 15-point, seven-assist, five-rebound effort in his first game since joining the team Wednesday, and it helped the Suns snap a five-game losing skid.

“Moments like that at the end of the game, having playoff experience definitely helps,” Canaan told reporters after the game about his three pressure free throws he calmly made. “Just to be able to calm down and know it’s like a regular free throw in a regular part of the game. So when I got fouled I knew I was going to step up to make them.”

Canaan, who was playing in his just his second game of this season, the first of which came with the Houston Rockets, called his performance probably the second-best game of this career.

The Suns will need similar contributions from Canaan because Devin Booker, out with a groin injury, isn’t expected to return to the lineup until at least Dec. 26.