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The Mavericks have dug a hole too deep to climb out of

Dallas is a different team since the new year, but the comeback might just be too insurmountable — and more notes.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The game tonight against the Pistons felt like a summary of the Mavericks season — a lot of bad, some good and the good that did come was too late.

Dallas enters the All-Star break at 22-34, the worst mark since the disastrous ‘90s teams. Despite all the noise the Mavericks have made since 2017 started, they’re just as far back as they’ve been for months. No ground has really been made up even though they’ve been playing like a really good team for weeks.

It hasn’t mattered, simply because the Mavericks dug themselves too deep a hole. Things aren’t always going to go perfectly in this league, and even the magic potion of Dirk Nowitzki + Rick Carlisle hasn’t been able to mask the Mavericks injuries and rough patches while integrating new and younger players.

The loss tonight felt so much like the whole season has felt. Dallas got drubbed early, looking like one of the worst teams in the NBA, like they were back when Dirk, Deron Williams and J.J. Barea were all hurt. They looked like a team speeding toward the bottom of the standings.

Then, just like this season, they woke up and they woke up because of Dirk. Dirk dropped 13 in the third quarter, jolting the team back to life, much like Dirk jolted the team back to life toward the end of 2016 and spurred them to this current good stretch they’ve been on. It just wasn’t enough to win tonight.

And it probably won’t be enough to grab that final playoff spot. Don’t count out Dirk, Carlisle or Wes Matthews, but there just isn’t enough sustained winning. Dallas has two separate two-game losing skids this month. That won’t cut it when you’re down so big in the standings. Hell, Carlisle said it himself on Saturday after the win against the Magic. “We have zero margin for error because we’ve just been up against it for so long,” he said.

And again, the Mavs had zero margin for error trying to complete their comeback against the Pistons. In the third and fourth quarters, Dallas had plenty of opportunities to cut the lead down to 10, only to go cold for minutes at a time. It let Detroit breathe for a little bit longer and by the time the Mavs got the deficit in single-digits, they had nothing in the tank.

Things will get better — the next three games coming out of the break are Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta — but you can’t help but feel like it’s too late. The Mavericks have fought like hell to climb out of the pit, but much like their attempted comeback tonight, I’m not sure they’ll have the energy to push it past the finish line. Onto the notes:

  • This is getting really annoying. Dirk’s three-highest scoring games (26 against the Minnesota, 25 against Portland and 24 against Detroit) have all been losses. We’re at the point of Dirk’s career where 20-plus point outbursts are fewer and far between and the fact that the Mavs can’t take advantage of vintage Dirk is infuriating. Dirk made 4-of-6 from three — the rest of the Mavs combined were 6-of-30.
  • That said, damn did I get fired up watching Dirk in the third quarter. He dropped 13 points and three three-pointers and that combined with the short haircut made it feel like he jumped in a time machine to 2007. It was great.
  • Rick has vehemently said anytime he’s asked that Deron Williams is his starter. Even with Yogi-mania it was hard to disagree, because Williams put together a really nice month of January and was playing well before his latest injury. So, about that. Williams scored 12 points and went 4-of-14 from the floor tonight and he hasn’t looked great since he returned against the Magic. Obviously Williams needs some time to get back into the swing of things, but like Carlisle said, the Mavs have zero margin for error. They don’t have time to assimilate Williams back into the lineup.
  • Yogi Ferrell wasn’t much better, scoring five points on 2-of-8 shooting. He missed a couple pull-up jumpers, which has been his bread and butter so far this season since his size makes it tough for him to score in the paint. Teams are wising up a bit and Ferrell still picks up his dribble too much at the elbows. He’ll be better; he was due for some regression.
  • Matthews had been so damn good in February, it was tough to watch him struggle tonight. He had no lift on his jumper, coming up short a lot. Boy, was not expecting an 0-for-7 night from deep from Matthews tonight and if you want a simple thing to point at for why the Mavs were getting absolutely drilled in the first-half, that’s one to look at.
  • My favorite player Andrew Bogut returned and he looked ... fine. Again, I don’t think Bogut is a bad player, he just is a redundant one when the Mavs can hold the fort down reasonably enough with a center rotation of Dirk, Salah Mejri and Dwight Powell. Bogut played 18 minutes tonight and his rebounding was sorely missed (eight rebounds). The Mavs got crushed again on the glass tonight and Bogut should help there at least. He was his usual good self guarding the rim tonight and had his usual bad turnover as well. Also Mejri played five minutes and Powell didn’t get off the bench. Sigh. Mejri was balling out in February and had one of the Mavs highest net-ratings of the month.
  • You would think Andre Drummond would have had a monster game going against Dirk most of the night, but he was relatively quiet (nine points, 11 rebounds). It was everyone else that did the Mavs in. Reggie Jackson really highlighted how tough it is for the Mavs to go so small in the backcourt and out on the wing. He made it look like Ferrell was a fifth-grader when Ferrell tried to check him. The Mavericks play a lot of players small for their position, even for small-ball (Seth Curry, Ferrell, Matthews) and it can be tough when going against a team that can throw out so many interchangeable athletic guards and wings that the Pistons can.
  • This was the kind of night you pine for Harrison Barnes to have a free-throw game. Only two attempts tonight while his three-point shot abandoned him again. There were moments in the fourth quarter where Barnes clearly wanted to take over, but his jumper wouldn’t fall. He needs to come up with a counter when the basket dries up.
  • After Dirk’s 10 rebounds, no Mav in the starting lineup had more than Harrison Barnes five. The other three players each had two. The Pistons had four of their five starters grab at least five or more rebounds. That’s tough to overcome.