Wednesday’s 112-89 setback in Phoenix was the second consecutive loss on the trip for the Mavericks. That defeat, coupled with San Antonio beating Portland for its 10th straight win, pushed Dallas out of at least a tie for the division lead for the first time all season.
“I thought for us to have a chance we’d have to win two out of three on this road trip,” Dallas coach Don Nelson said. “We’ve already lost the first two and it’s not going to be an easy game day after tomorrow (at Utah). Nothing’s easy at this point.”
It seemed the Mavs were going to roll to a division crown and the top seed in the Western Conference after opening the season with 14 straight wins and standing 38-10 at the All-Star break.
Now Dallas might have to settle for the third seed in the West and a potential first-round matchup with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
An injury to second-leading scorer Michael Finley and a general feeling of wear and tear have hurt the Mavs in recent weeks. They’ve gone 6-5 with Finley sidelined by a strained left hamstring, including losses in three of four.
“We’ve been fighting for first place since the All-Star break and we’re a tired team,” guard Steve Nash said. “Hopefully we’ll get Mike back soon, and we’ll hopefully get some energy next week and be feeling good about ourselves going into the playoffs.”
The Jazz also had been slumping toward the postseason, but posted a much-needed 94-73 rout of the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. One night earlier, Utah was embarrassed 128-102 at Golden State for its third straight loss.
The Jazz could face Dallas in the opening round if they can catch the Lakers, but moving up from the seventh seed would appear to be a very tough task. Their final three games come against the top three teams in the West— Dallas, San Antonio and Sacramento.
“If we can be tough enough mentally, I think we can compete against these other teams. I am anxious to see,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
Utah’s only two losses in its last 10 home games came in overtime.
STANDINGS: Mavericks - 2nd place, 1 GB, Midwest Division. Jazz - 4th place, 12 1/2 GB, Midwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Mavericks - Nowitzki, 24.7 ppg and 9.9 rpg; Nash, 7.2 apg. Jazz - Malone, 20.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg; Stockton, 7.7 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Mavericks, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: March 8; Mavericks, 101-77. At Dallas, Nowitzki scored 21 points to lead six Mavs in double figures.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Mavericks - 26-13 on the road; Jazz - 28-11 at home.
INJURIES: Mavericks - G-F Finley (hamstring); F Walt Williams (hamstring); G-F Antoine Rigaudeau (back). Jazz - F Jarron Collins (knee); C Curtis Borchardt (foot); G Raul Lopez (knee).