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The Mavericks can’t have another letdown with playoff seeding on the line

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The Memphis Grizzlies embarrassed the Dallas Mavericks.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Embarrassing. That’s the only way to describe the Dallas Mavericks’ 133-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday night. All but a handful of players—Tim Hardaway Jr., Willie Cauley-Stein, Jalen Brunson—looked sloppy and disinterested.

The loss couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Mavericks. They’re currently jockeying for playoff positioning with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers. After the loss to Memphis, Dallas fell to sixth in the West and a potential first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers—something the team should want to avoid.

“We had stretches where we played well, but it didn’t feel like there was a collective will for 48 minutes,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. “Look, that’s what you got to have. We’re all disappointed. We know we go to do better.”

At times, early on at least, it appeared the Mavericks were in control. They had a decent lead with a few minutes to play in the first quarter only to watch the Marvs sweep it away. A similar story played out in the second quarter as well. By the end of the third quarter, Dallas was absolutely cooked.

It’s hard to win NBA games when nearly the entire roster comes out and drops a dud. It’s even harder with the team’s super star looks sluggish and checked out. Unfortunately, that’s how Luka Doncic played last night. There wouldn’t be any late game circus shot heroics from him against the Grizzlies this time.

He finished the night with 12 points on 4-16 shooting (0-4 on three-pointers) with five rebounds, five assists, five turnovers, and a plus-minus of minus-23, the worst mark on the team.

“The game today is on me,” Doncic said. “I wasn’t here. I wasn’t myself. We’ve got to bounce back. That game was obviously one of the worst I’ve ever played, and I got to be better than that.”

Doncic hasn’t looked himself recently. For the most part the numbers are still there, but he’s been taking a beating physically. He’s had a lingering elbow issue, it sometimes looks like his wrist is bothering him, and last night he took a hard spill diving out of bounds.

How much Doncic’s body is giving him problems heading into postseason play is anyone’s guess. The team won’t make any announcement unless it’s serious. But they need him to be able to compete at a high level if they have any aspirations of advancing beyond Round 1.

Even though Doncic is banged up, there’s no rest for the weary. Dallas suits up again tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans, who are without Zion Williamson and list Brandon Ingram as doubtful. Still, they aren’t pushovers.

“New Orleans is playing a hard, unselfish brand of basketball without three of their top players,” Carlisle said.

Dallas is expecting Kristaps Porzingis to return to the lineup Wednesday. He’s been a polarizing figure this season, but if he’s healthy, he can provide some much-needed scoring. But the Mavericks’ struggles in Memphis weren’t about just one player. It was a collective letdown.

“I don’t think we played well,” Doncic said. “We got beat by 30, I don’t think that’s playing well. But, like I said, that’s on me, and I got to do better.”

It’s not just Doncic, though. Simply put, the Mavericks must play better as a whole, and they need to win against the Pelicans. Since Portland hold the tiebreaker with Dallas, they have the advantage going forward and can potentially hang onto the fifth seed heading into the playoffs.

Portland has a tough remaining schedule compared to the Mavericks. The door is therefore open for Dallas to reclaim the fifth seed. They will have to regroup and play significantly better than they did Tuesday to reclaim lost ground. The Mavericks control their playoff seeding destiny, but Tuesday night it looked like they simply didn’t care.