With the return of Dirk Nowitzki against the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas got their savior and longtime superstar back, but their fortunes didn't change. Three losses came in Dirk's three games back.
Now, Dallas is looking desperate and the Mavs even starting to look like trade deadline sellers if this trend continues.
What that could mean in the next few months is still up for debate, but there could suddenly be a handful of players on the block, should Dallas fail to turn things around, preferably starting Sunday.
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: San Antonio Spurs (23-8), Dallas Mavericks (12-18)
Betting Line: San Antonio -6
Injury Report: Gary Neal, Questionable (Calf)
Key Storyline: Dallas' Waning Chances
There's never a moment too early in the season to start counting teams out. It's the best way to make yourself look like an idiot later in the year, and what's an NBA season without feeling like a complete idiot at some point.
With that in mind, at 12-18 Dallas is plummeting. Nothing they do recently looks like a positive.
Hell, they can't even lose in overtime without looking like a complete mess. After Darren Collison's amazing game-tying three-pointer against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the overtime period was a complete disaster.
O.J. Mayo missed shots, Shawn Marion missed shots, Mayo turned the ball over, Chris Kaman got blocked, Mayo missed free throws, and Mayo got a shot blocked on the three-point line.
Basically, O.J. Mayo fell apart.
They've lost eight of their last nine games, and hopes are running thin in Dallas. A win over San Antonio would help reverse that trend.
Key Matchup: Darren Collison vs. Tony Parker
The last time the Spurs and Mavericks met, Collison had still not won his starting point guard spot back after getting benched in favor of the now-retired Derek Fisher. He did, however, lead the Mavericks in scoring with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting in that game.
Basically, he was one of the few productive Mavericks in the last meeting.
Collison then had the game-tying shot against the Thunder in a 32-point game, his best scoring night of the season.
Parker, meanwhile, spent the entire game against the Mavericks methodically running the offense, finishing with 18 points and six assists.
While the resurgence of Tim Duncan is the main story out of San Antoino this season, Parker continues to be the team's most effective and dangerous player.
If they want any chance of winning this game, the Mavericks are going to have to contain Parker—and pretty much everybody else in the process.
X-Factors: Stephen Jackson and Dirk Nowitzki
In essence, every non-star player for the San Antonio Spurs can be their X-factor. From Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Nando de Colo, to Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Manu Ginobili, they can all just flat-out score.
However, the most volatile of the group has to be Stephen Jackson. In this injury-riddled season for Jackson, he's peaked at only 14 points, but is capable of scoring in bunches—and quickly. He's shown it throughout his career.
Not only that, he tends to act as a bit of an enforcer at times, getting into the thick of things when there needs to be somebody rattled around.
For the Mavericks, we've got to keep an eye out for the recently returned Dirk Nowitzki.
It's just his fourth game back since his return against the Spurs in the two teams' last matchup, so there will continue to be a minutes limit on Dirk.
However, it could be a different story once the shots start falling and the Mavericks look like they have a chance to win the game.
This is a dire situation for the Mavs, and if they see a victory on the horizon, the minutes could be pushed, just like they were against the Thunder, when he played 26 minutes.
He's shot poorly in his past two games, but it's still Dirk Nowitzki running around the court out there. You can't take him lightly.
The Spurs are on a four-game winning streak since hitting a rough snag in the middle of the month and they're looking just as powerful as they have all season long, topping 120 points in two of their past four games.
Dallas continues to struggle and just isn't the defensive powerhouse necessary to slow down the Spurs offense, and that's something that Dirk was never going to improve.
If the offense is clicking and Dirk is hitting shots, then maybe Dallas makes this one a game. Otherwise, San Antonio will cover the spread and then some.
San Antonio 119, Dallas 104