The Dallas Mavericks limped into Chicago Thursday, having lost three consecutive games to drop their record in the early going to 2-5.
They may have needed a wheelchair to leave Chicago. The Mavs ended up dropping their fourth straight game, 98-91, largely due to a completely non-existent effort in the second half.
The Mavs roared out to a 24-5 lead in the first six minutes of the game, and it looked as if they'd run the Bulls right out of their own building. Then, rookie head coach Vinny Del Negro called a timeout, inserted instant offense in Ben Gordon, and the Bulls were off and running.
Dallas got off to its quick start by running the floor and scoring easy buckets in the transition game, which is exactly what the Bulls did to get the Mavericks back on their heels to end the quarter.
After the first quarter, the Mavs led by 10 and still seemed to be in control. That's when it all really started going downhill.
Chicago outscored Dallas by 11 in the second, and by seven in the third quarter, on their way to a 98-91 victory.
The Mavs got essentially nothing from former MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who finished 5-for-17 from the floor for 12 points to go along with six boards.
It was Dirk's second consecutive pedestrian effort, following a 14-point showing at home against the Lakers Tuesday.
For Dallas to do anything at all this season, they will need much more consistent play from just about everybody.
Brandon Bass isn't a great player by any means, but unlike Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop, he actually has basketball skills.
He played 13 minutes against the Bulls, going two-for-four for four points. He needs to get more minutes, and the two centers should have their minutes cut.
Dampier has put up two straight solid double-doubles, but if the last decade of his career is any indication, he is not about to start doing this nightly.
Jason Kidd has gotten off to a good start considering how miserable he looked in the Olympics over the summer, but he can't do it if he doesn't have any help. Kidd's game hinges on his teammates making proper cuts, getting to the basket, and just flat-out making their shots. So far, they aren't doing that.
Josh Howard is the same player he's always been: great in the first quarter, but virtually invisible after that.
Their bench looks weak as well, with the exception of Gerald Green, who has averaged about nine PPG in limited minutes. Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry, Antoine Wright, Diop, and Bass have given them essentially nothing to this point.
They all need to step their games up.
Dallas' two wins to this point are over the lowly Timberwolves and equally awful Spurs, and both on the road. The Wolves and Spurs have combined for just three wins as of today.
The Mavs have tough losses to Western powerhouses Houston and the Lakers, but horrible losses to the Clippers (1-7) and now the 3-5 Bulls have put the Mavs in a deep hole early on.
It certainly doesn't help that they play in the deepest division in the league, with the Hornets, Rockets, and Spurs all expected to finish ahead of them.
There is still plenty of time left for Dallas to dig themselves out, and I still think they have too much talent to miss the playoffs.
I also believe in Rick Carlisle. He's too good of a coach to let his team get away from him this early in the season, and I think they can definitely turn it around behind him.
However, if they don't start winning the games that they should, Dirk and the Mavs are going to find themselves on the outside looking in in the powerful Western Conference.