With 13 games remaining and a slim cushion between them making the playoffs or missing out for a second straight season, losses are already taking on the feeling of the postseason variety for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks.
They'll try to wash that taste from their mouths Friday night at home against the Denver Nuggets, who have pestered the Mavericks this season.
Dallas (41-28) has won five of seven, but its three-game winning streak came to an end in Wednesday's 123-122 home loss to Minnesota in overtime.
"This is a tough one," said Nowitzki, who had guided Dallas to the playoffs in 12 straight seasons before 2012-13. "This feels like a playoff loss. It really does. I don't even know what to say."
Nowitzki scored a team-high 27 points but missed all seven of his 3-point tries and shot 11 for 27 overall while his teammates hit 52.9 percent. The Mavericks fell to 2-5 when their top scorer (21.5 points per game) has more than 20 field-goal attempts.
"I had so many open looks, even from 3," Nowitzki told the team's official website. "Just one of those nights, so I take that on me."
Dallas fell percentage points behind Memphis for seventh place in the Western Conference, and its lead over ninth-place Phoenix dropped to 1 1/2 games.
The Mavericks, 1-1 to begin a season-high eight-game homestand, will try to get things going in the right direction again by avoiding a season sweep to Denver (31-37) for the first time since 2008-09.
The Nuggets have won five of six against the Mavericks, including a home-and-home series in November and a 115-110 victory in Denver on March 5.
Nowitzki has averaged 24.0 points in the season series while Ty Lawson has led Denver with 19.7 per game, but the Nuggets could have to look elsewhere for scoring this time around.
Lawson missed Wednesday's 118-109 home win over Detroit with a sinus infection and is said to also be suffering from an aggravated groin.
Wilson Chandler also missed the game with a hip injury as the Nuggets leaned on Aaron Brooks, who had a game-high 27 points and a career-best 17 assists while starting in Lawson's place.
"Aaron did a great job of picking those guys apart," said Darrell Arthur, who chipped in 13 points off the bench. "He did whatever he wanted to. He got to the rim. He got guys open for easy looks. He did a great job managing the floor today."
Brooks, who totaled 28 points on 10-of-27 shooting in the previous four games, was acquired from Houston at last month's trade deadline and said his comfort level is growing.
"I just learned the offense and I am making better decisions," Brooks told the team's official website. "Being older and seeing stuff a little different helped me expand my game a little more."
Backcourt mate Randy Foye added 22 points for the Nuggets, who have won four of five after dropping 13 of 16. They've averaged 110.2 points during the turnaround, but another key has been rebounding.
Denver has outrebounded opponents 49.6-39.4 in its last five, with reserve J.J. Hickson posting double-doubles in three straight.
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