Mavericks, Heat heading in opposite directions

The high moment for the Mavs during a lopsided loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday came from one of the unlikeliest lineups you’ll ever see in an NBA game. Reserve point guard Dominique Jones joined Roddy Beaubois, rookies Jae Crowder, Bernard “Sarge” James and veteran Vince Carter on the floor in the second quarter.

That unit quickly cut into a large deficit and pulled the Mavs to within 36-33. James swatted shots on the defensive end and scored six points with some nifty moves around the basket. But the Mavs came crashing back to reality when coach Rick Carlisle re-inserted his starters. If this was some type of measuring-stick game, the Mavs (12-14) are in awful shape as they await the return of Dirk Nowitzki. The Heat were determined to make things tough for O.J. Mayo, and he responded with what had to be his worst game of the season. When he was still on the court in the fourth quarter with the Mavs trailing by 30 points, it almost felt like punishment.

Mayo, who’s been one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the NBA, wasn’t even close on most of his attempts. He took ill-advised shots and then attempted to force passes in traffic.

It was also the type of game that brings out the worst in Carter. The 35-year-old tried too hard to dial back the clock in the presence of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as evidenced by a play in the first half in which he palmed the ball far away from his body and then delivered a wild pass toward the top of the key that was intercepted by the Heat. Carlisle didn’t lash out at his team after the game, in part because the Mavs had a quick turnaround against the Memphis Grizzlies. He normally paces the sideline no matter the score, but he spent a major portion of the second half in his seat. He talked about the differences between this version of the Heat as opposed to the one that fell to the Mavs only 18 months ago.

“They’re so much better now just because they’ve been together,” Carlisle said after Thursday’s game. “And there’s a lot to be said for being together. Right now, one of our struggles is that we’ve got a group that hasn’t been together much. There are times that it’s very challenging.”

Wade has taken jabs at the Mavs in the past, but after the game he complimented Carlisle for getting the most out of this rag-tag group of players. I’m not sure there’s a worse matchup for center Chris Kaman than the Heat. Nearly every time he attempted to dribble with his back to the goal, someone swooped in and stole the ball.

The Mavs have been able to hover near .500 based on a fairly soft schedule. But now they have games coming up against the Grizzlies, Spurs and Thunder. With Derek Fisher missing Thursday’s game, the Mavs needed a solid performance from Darren Collison. But he was largely ineffective throughout the game. That led to more minutes for Jones, who admitted to me after the game that he ran completely out of gas because of his extended minutes.

The mentality for the Mavs for much of the season has been to hold the fort until Nowitzki returns. But even if he’s able to return to the lineup next week, it will still take several games for him to find some type of rhythm. This simply doesn’t look anything like a playoff team. The Mavs can hang with decent teams such as the Boston Celtics at times, but Carlisle has no way of knowing what he’s going to get on a nightly basis.

This is the product of Mark Cuban’s decision to place more value on the future than the present. The Mavs allowed key players from the championship team to depart in hopes of landing a so-called “big fish” who would make life easier on Nowitzki. Instead, the team is desperately waiting for Dirk to return to the lineup and carry them to the playoffs.

Maybe Cuban’s plan will someday make sense. But to this point, it’s a major head-scratcher.