LOS ANGELES (AP)—The frown on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s face said it all. The defending Western Conference champions are still winless.
Cuttino Mobley scored 28 points and the Los Angeles Clippers beat Dallas 103-85 Wednesday night. The Mavericks, who tied a club record last season with 60 wins and came within two victories of their first NBA championship, have opened a season 0-4 for the first time in the franchise’s 27-year history.
Dallas is the first team since the 2001-02 Philadelphia 76ers to start out with four straight losses after going to the finals.
“We’re just not cohesive yet as a team and we’re not hitting our open shots,” Cuban said in the quiet locker room. “We just haven’t gotten off to a good start, but there’s 78 more games and that’s all that matters. You never like to lose, but I’m not worried about this team.”
This is the first time Dallas has lost four straight games since Avery Johnson succeeded Don Nelson as coach on March 19, 2005. Johnson, the reigning NBA coach of the year, entered this season 76-24.
“We are disappointed. It is a tough start for us,” Johnson said. “We aren’t playing good defense for long stretches of the game and we aren’t playing good offense. We are just playing in waves. We are playing 26 minutes of a 48-minute game, and that is not very good basketball.”
Sam Cassell had 21 points and nine assists for the Clippers, who have won four straight after losing at Phoenix in their opener. Los Angeles has won six of its last 12 games against Dallas after losing 17 of the previous 19 meetings. Two of their three losses to the Mavericks last season were decided by two-point margins.
Jason Terry led Dallas with 23 points. Jerry Stackhouse made his first start of the season at small forward in place of Josh Howard, who is expected to be sidelined at least two weeks because of a sprained left ankle. Stackhouse scored 12 points in 37 minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Dallas. He was kept on a short leash by the referees during the final 28 minutes of play, thanks to a technical foul he got with 4:05 left in the second quarter after complaining that Mobley fouled him while stripping him of the ball.
“I think we did an excellent job on Nowitzki,” Cassell said. “We crowded him, forced him to take quick shots and put a monkey wrench in his rhythm.”
Down by as many as 14 late in the first quarter, the Clippers went on a 17-7 run in the third to turn a seven-point halftime deficit into a 60-57 advantage. They took their first lead, 57-56, on a 10-foot jumper by Cassell with 7:48 left in the quarter and never trailed again.
“We did well on the defensive end and it helped our offense,” Mobley said. “They came out in that first quarter bombing and moving around. But in the second quarter, we played Clipper basketball. We played together, got some deflections and got a lot more in the second half. We made them take tough shots, then we rebounded the ball and ran it.”
Mobley triggered a 12-4 run with a driving layup and 16-foot bank shot, and Elton Brand capped it with four free throws to give Los Angeles a 97-83 cushion with 1:54 remaining. Brand finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“We’ve got so many offensive threats, so when it’s your turn you’ve got to heat up—just like Cat did tonight,” Brand said. “Cat and James Singleton did a great job on Dirk Nowitzki when it counted. We boxed out and rebounded, came out with some intensity in the second half, and that really helped.”
Terry, who was ejected from Monday’s game against Golden State after getting a flagrant foul for clotheslining Monta Ellis, helped Dallas open a 30-17 lead late in the opening quarter. But the Clippers rallied with an 8-0 run in the second quarter and Mobley drained a 3-pointer from 33 feet away, narrowing the gap to 48-41 with 36 seconds left in the half.
“We started out with our small guards on Mobley and Cassell, and those guys like to post up regardless of who they’re playing,” Stackhouse said. “So I think they tried to go at those matchups early and got themselves going. And then the basket seemed pretty big for those guys tonight. We played a lot of 1-on-1 and didn’t really get the ball moving like we did in the first half, and it caught up with us.”
Dallas and Denver (0-3) are the NBA’s only winless teams. Boston won its first game on Wednesday. … Johnson and Clippers counterpart Mike Dunleavy both guided a team to the finals in their first season as head coaches— Dunleavy doing it with the 1990-91 Lakers. Both have earned NBA coach of the year honors, Dunleavy in 1998-99 with Portland. … Devean George made his Mavericks debut, playing five scoreless minutes and shooting 0-for-3. George, signed as a free agent after spending his first seven NBA seasons with the Lakers.