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Regular Season Don't Mean Nothin'. At Least, You Gotta Hope Not.

No, I still don’t think the Mavericks should trade for Jason Kidd. But another couple upchuck performances like the last two nights, and even Mark Cuban will get antsy. While you digest these hideous numbers, keep calmly repeating to yourself, It’s only February … It’s only February … It’s only February. Because, as we learned last year, the regular season doesn’t mean jack shit, right?

The Mavs led the New Jersey Nets 36-25 midway through the second quarter Sunday night. Since then, they’ve played some of the franchise’s worst, most harmless basketball since the days of Quinn Buckner, Wallace Bryant and Mike Iuzzolino. The Mavs missed 16 consecutive shots in Jersey, allowed a 21-0 run and were outscored 76-46 to close the game. Last night in Philly it got even worse, as Dallas missed 13 straight shots in the third quarter and produced a franchise record-low 23 points in the second half of an 84-76 loss. In the fourth quarter, they just made three baskets in 12 minutes -- and that included a desperation 28-foot three-pointer by J.J. Barea in garbage time.

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Even though three of their top eight players (Devin Harris, Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse) were in street clothes and Josh Howard left the game with a bruised tail bone, the 23 points are an embarrassment. This is a franchise that I witnessed scoring two points in a quarter (on two Derek Harper free throws, mind you) against the Lakers in 1997, yet the Mavs somehow managed to scrap together 24 points for the half. Troubling? Sure. Alarming? Not yet.

After last year’s record-setting 67-win regular season resulted in a first-round playoff loss, the Mavs couldn’t help but ease up on the gas this year. They still get amped for the Spurs, Suns and Lakers, but road trips in the dead of winter to Eastern Conference afterthoughts? Notsamuch. And that’s OK. Remember, last year the Mavs were a remarkable 27-3 against the East. This year they are only 12-11, including two losses to the pathetic Wizards. Again, we’ll trade a February loss in Philly if it facilitates an April win in Oakland, right?

Other than the mid-season blahs, what the last two nights indicate is how important Harris is to Dallas’ offense. As I’ve said before, Barea tries hard and all, but any team with legit hopes of a title doesn’t have him on the floor for meaningful minutes. The numbers don’t lie: With Harris the Mavs are 28-10; without him, 6-7. And their offense scores about nine points less per game. Defensive pressure is key in the NFL. In the NBA, it’s offensive penetration. --Richie Whitt

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