After finally putting some distance between themselves and the ninth-place team in the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks haven’t played like a team that wants to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Indiana Pacers are in worse shape in the East race.
In a matchup between teams struggling in their respective fights for playoff position, the Mavericks look to avoid their fourth loss in five games Friday night when they visit the Pacers, losers of four straight.
Dallas (41-28) appeared to be in good shape after defeating Portland last Wednesday night for its seventh win in nine games. That victory gave the Mavericks a 5 1/2-game cushion over Phoenix for eighth place in the West.
Since then, however, Dallas has dropped three of four and seen its lead over Phoenix shrink to 3 1/2 games.
The Mavericks’ struggles continued in a 95-87 loss at Atlanta on Thursday night. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry combined to shoot 2-for-10 in the fourth quarter, and Terry and Jason Kidd missed all eight of their 3-point attempts in that final period as Dallas finished just 6-for-31 from behind the arc.
“We were able to get some stops defensively, but we just couldn’t make any 3s when we needed to,” Kidd said.
Dallas played most of the game without coach Rick Carlisle, who was ejected at the 2:46 mark of the second quarter for arguing that Nowitzki was getting fouled.
Carlisle might be better behaved in his return to Indianapolis. He coached the Pacers for four seasons from 2003-2007 before getting fired and replaced by Jim O’Brien. Carlisle, who sat out last season before taking over the Mavericks last summer, has not coached at Conseco Fieldhouse since his tenure with the Pacers.
O’Brien got good news Wednesday when Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger returned from a foot injury to score 35 points with 10 rebounds in his first start in a month. Indiana, though, was without Troy Murphy (calf) in the 95-85 loss to Portland.
Murphy, averaging 18.3 points and 13.0 rebounds since the start of February, is day-to-day. O’Brien wants him back as soon as possible.
“Our offense is designed to space the court, and when you don’t have Danny or Troy out there, we’re not getting the looks and teams pack it in,” O’Brien said.
The Pacers have clinched their fourth consecutive non-winning season with four straight losses. More importantly, they’re losing valuable ground in the playoff race. They’ve fallen into 13th place in the East, four games behind eighth-place Chicago.
“We’re quickly playing ourselves out of a playoff race is what it’s coming down to,” O’Brien said. “I would say the last three games it did not seem like we played with an urgency that the situation calls for. We as a group have to figure out why. … We need to get our edge back, and we have to do it immediately.”
The Pacers faded down the stretch in their first meeting with the Mavericks, getting outscored 32-23 in the fourth quarter to lose 109-106 in Dallas. Terry scored 16 of his 29 points in the fourth.
Dallas has lost three straight and eight of 10 on the road, where it’s 16-20. The Mavericks fell 111-107 at Conseco Fieldhouse last season, their only loss in their last seven overall meetings with the Pacers.