Just 24 hours before, virtually every member of the Dallas Mavericks joyously played together, the evening punctuated by warm smiles, brotherly gestures and, in the end, big winnings.
But that was Sunday night at the W Hotel as the fellas assembled for Delonte West's Casino Royale party for charity. On Monday night they played a game – with infinitely chips at stake – and they allowed the visiting Clippers to cash in with a stunningly easy 94-75 victory at the American Airlines Center.
"We couldn't get anything going on either end of the floor,'' said Mavs forward Shawn Marion. "It was like bringing a knife to a gun fight. And you're going to lose when that happens.''
"A knife to a gunfight'' may be sugarcoating it. What Dallas brought to this "gunfight'' -- so critical with the Clippers entering the night as the No. 4 seed and the Mavs as the No. 5 seed and now the tiebreaker between the two conceded to LA – was more like a pound of wet noodles.
The defending champions have talent, pedigree and, as exhibited on Sunday, unity. But there is obviously a lack of urgency as they coughed up one of their worst performances, on multiple levels, in a long time.
"Disengaged'' "and disinterested''? How that those be fitting words for a club that admittedly tries to simply cruise by in games against have-nots because of its "just-get-to-the-Tournament'' approach but swears that it is playoff-ready now when the regular-season opponent is playoff-caliber?
"I'm going to look at the film before I gauge the effort,'' Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Sometimes you just get your ass kicked that bad. We were poor and there are no excuses – guys being out, any of that kind of stuff. All of that stuff rings hollow. … When you stink, you stink. We've got to bounce back."
Carlisle's reference to the "excuses'' is worthy of brief mention. The club announced before the game that point guard Jason Kidd would miss at least a week with what is officially being labeled a strained right calf. The Mavs also confirmed a Sunday night report from DallasBasketball.com that Lamar Odom is suffering from a flu-like ailment and he was also missing from the rotation.
With the Mavs' playoff hopes still undecidedly balanced in the palm of fate, the timing was about as poor as it could be ... and the situation was only compounded by the fact that the season tiebreaker was at stake.
Already facing difficult circumstances, the first-half display from the Mavs who did take the court only made things worse. Dirk Nowitzki (5-of-8 shooting for 12 points before the intermission) was forced to essentially undertake the task of competing against the entire Clippers roster alone at the offensive end. Excluding Dirk (who finished with 19), the rest of the Dallas roster shot 9-of-32 -- a sluggish 28.1 field-goal percentage.
So Rick says he wants to study film to gauge his team's effort? We've already studied 25 seconds of it. Just 25 seconds, and in that bit of time, on one possession, the Mavs allowing an entry pass, allow a crosscourt pass, have both guards get lost on defense, allow a cutter to come through the lane unchecked, give a shooter an open 3 and then fail to box out ANY Clippers, most notably and most criminally, Blake Griffin:
There. Seen enough film?
As a whole, Dallas appeared resigned to the will of the injury report, surrendering the game before it had begun. Marion is correct: At both ends of the court, they appeared slow, careless and disinterested in committing to the level of energy required to compete, playing in acceptance, almost in welcoming, of the dismal 49-33 halftime score.
Folded inside that halftime score, and partly explaining it, are the "hustle" stats that Carlisle holds so dear:
Second-Chance Points? Clippers: 10, Mavericks: 0.
Rebounds? Clippers: 26, Mavericks: 18.
Steals? Clippers: 7, Mavericks: 3.
Turnovers (and points off turnovers)? Clippers: 7 (14 points).
Mavericks: 9 (9 points).
Fastbreak Points? Clippers: 9, Mavericks: 2
Rather than going on listing numbers, let's just sum it up by saying the Clippers led in just about every meaningful statistical category … and in every intangible facet of the game.
"We were poor in virtually every area of the game,'' said Carlisle, who was trying to be brutally frank but who instead may have been understating things.
We could throw a dart and hit a worthy target. We'll do so with guard play, West subbing into the starting lineup for Kidd and joining Vince Carter. Roddy Beaubois and Jason Terry acted as the primary guards for the second unit. But after a quick 3-pointer and assist from Roddy, they seemed engaged in a basketball version of a limbo contest. As a duo, they were 1-of-6 for three points in the first quarter, with one assist and two turnovers. Beaubois took six of his eight shot attempts for the game behind the 3-point line, making only one. He had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) and appeared either confused or disconnected from the game. And, we're likely being kind when saying Terry wasn't often far removed from that same lost place as he was 1-of-4 from the arc and needed 13 shots to score his 15 empty points.
Jason Kidd has missed games previously, but never has the Dallas offense appeared so rudderless in his absence.
"Kidd,'' Dirk said flatteringly, "is the head of the snake. He's going to be missed.''
Meanwhile, only Marion was even close to being a competent defender, the forward taking on the odd challenge of chasing waterbug Clippers point guard Chris Paul and helping to limit Paul to eight points on 3-of-12 shooting (to go with 10 assists).
But one guy playing defense won't get it done, which is how in addition to Blake Griffin dunking his way to 15 points, LA's Randy Foye seeped through cracks in the Dallas shell to set a new career high and tying a franchise record with eight made 3-pointers. Foye scored 28, largely due to Dallas defenders repeatedly standing in the 817 area code while he launched from the 214.
"I was waiting for somebody to knock him down, do something," said Carlisle, who ultimately said his team's inability to solve the Foye puzzle is the responsibility of the head coach.
There is plenty of blame to be shuffled about as the 32-21 Clippers end a 10-game losing streak in Dallas, a streak that began in 2006. And there is plenty of fixing to be done as the Mavs prepare for the final 12 games of this condensed season, starting with a Wednesday visit from the Grizzlies, the team that is pushed to the No. 5 slot in the West with Dallas sliding to 6.