At points during the first half of the season, the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers have each looked like one of the top teams in the loaded Western Conference. Lately, however, both clubs seem vulnerable.
The Mavericks look to avoid their first three-game losing streak in more than two months on Wednesday when they host the Blazers, who are struggling to recapture their form from their December surge.
After winning 15 of 19 games, Dallas (34-17) has dropped its last two - both against sub-.500 teams from the Eastern Conference. The Mavericks blew double-digit leads in both of those games, and were outscored 89-65 in the second halves. They were held to 10 points in the fourth quarter of Monday’s 84-76 loss at Philadelphia.
“We have a high standard of excellence that we want to play to,” said Mavs coach Avery Johnson, whose team was an NBA-best 67-15 last season. “We are clear on our systems and we have to try to make the necessary adjustments. Mentally and physically, we just haven’t been able to sustain throughout the whole game and that’s what we need to do.”
The team’s struggles might have something to do with the absence of starting point guard Devin Harris, who has been sidelined since Jan. 27 because of a bone bruise on his left ankle. The Mavericks have also been without reserve guard Jerry Stackhouse (hamstring) for nine of 10 games and starting center Erick Dampier (ankle) for two of the last three.
“We just aren’t handling adversity very well right now, but these men are fighters,” Johnson told the Mavericks’ official Web site.
Dallas could also be without forward Josh Howard, who has a bruised lower back and is questionable for Wednesday. Howard, averaging a career-best 20.3 points a game, was hurt early in the fourth quarter Monday when he hit the floor hard after getting bumped by a 76ers player on a rebound.
An MRI on Tuesday confirmed Howard only has a bruise.
Harris won’t return until after this weekend’s All-Star break, while Stackhouse and Dampier are day-to-day.
Reigning league MVP Dirk Nowitzki is a combined 8-for-31 from the field in the Mavs’ consecutive defeats. He’s shooting 50.4 percent in the team’s 34 wins, but just 40.4 percent in its 17 losses.
Portland All-Star guard Brandon Roy endured his own shooting woes on Monday. In his return to the lineup after missing two games because of a death in his family, Roy was 5-for-13 from the field and 5-for-10 from the free-throw line as the Blazers (28-23) lost 95-83 at Houston.
Portland fell to 6-10 since winning 17 of 18 from Dec. 3-Jan. 9, and has lost three in a row for the first time since a four-game skid Nov. 26-Dec. 2.
“This was a tough loss for us,” said Roy, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 80.6 percent from the line in his career. “Our guys are really down. We’re not sneaking up on teams like we did early in the season. We have to find a way to grind things out and get some wins.”
That might be a challenge against the Mavs, who despite their recent struggles, boast the West’s best record against conference opponents. Dallas is 22-6 against conference rivals, including 9-1 since the beginning of January.
The Mavericks have won 14 of their last 15 meetings with the Blazers, with their one loss coming in Portland on Nov. 10. Dallas, though, evened the season series by winning 91-80 at American Airlines Center on Nov. 30 - the Mavericks’ ninth straight home victory over the Blazers since Jan. 26, 2003.
These teams meet for the fourth and final time this season April 12 in Portland.