DALLAS - Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and 76ers coach Doug Collins are riding in the same sort of boat. Both are trying to navigate their way through the choppy waters of the season without their main oars: Carlisle without Dirk Nowitzki and Collins without Andrew Bynum, both on the mend from knee injuries.
Safe to say, smooth sailing has been a rarity and adjustments the norm, and it turned Tuesday's game into a "somebody had to win" type of affair. That somebody was the Mavericks, who rode a hot fourth quarter to a 107-100 win, despite the Sixers' shooting 13-for-35 from three-point range.
The loss was the Sixers' fourth straight.
"The guys did a good job, I was proud of them," said Collins, whose team dropped to 12-13, under .500 for the first time this season. "I'm not into any moral victory by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I want our players to be. But we fought. This Dallas team's a very good offensive team. That is one of the thing they can do. We just couldn't get the ball stopped and keep it out of the paint at the end of the game. If we could make somebody maybe make a shot to beat us . . . But they just got up on top of the rim."
Carlisle went zone early in the third quarter, and it seemed to baffle the Sixers, as they settled for ill-advised jumpers, many times the fadeaway kind. But the Sixers held Dallas to only seven field goals and 19 points in the quarter, allowing the Sixers to erase a five-point halftime deficit and briefly take a three-point lead before falling behind, 76-74, after three quarters.
"We got six stops to start the third quarter and gave ourselves a chance," Collins said. "It's encouraging. I thought we had some guys play well and we've just got to keep building on that. We know we're undermanned, but nobody cares."
With the Sixers playing their third straight game without starting guard Jrue Holiday, out with a left-foot sprain, fourth-quarter comebacks certainly aren't desirable for Collins, and it became worse when Dallas began the fourth with an 18-8 run to open up a 12-point lead, which it rode to its 12th win in 25 games.
Dorell Wright came off the bench to lead the Sixers with 25 points, including seven three-pointers, while Spencer Hawes contributed 18 and seven rebounds. Evan Turner added 17 points from his new role as point guard.
Another game for Collins of mixing and matching and trying to see what, if anything, works best.
"It's been a little bit like that [all season], simply the plans you have as a coach on how you'd like to utilize guys with your team intact," Collins said. "We haven't been able to do that, so that's why we constantly are trying to figure out how we can best utilize our guys and maximize what we have. We're not going to make any excuses. My buddy Rick Carlisle over there is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and he doesn't have Dirk right now, so he's trying to have to make the same kind of adjustments. Plus he has a lot of new faces, as well. It's what coaches do, they just have to try and figure it out."
An unenviable task right now for Collins, but one that may get easier soon, as Holiday could play Wednesday in Houston.
At times Tuesday, Collins had two bigs on the floor and surrounded them with shooters and a ballhandler. For a good stretch in the first half, when the Sixers turned a nine-point deficit into a three-point lead, Collins had four perimeter players surrounding Lavoy Allen. Collins probably never envisioned using those lineups before the season, but they are a necessity now.
All Collins can ask from his players is to battle, and that's what he got from them against the Mavs. They trailed at the half, 57-52, while making six of their 16 three-pointers, draining eight of their nine foul shots, but failing to score any fastbreak points. When your offense isn't running smoothly (and the Sixers had eight first-half turnovers), fastbreaks can be a quick cure. When that isn't going well, a ton of pressure is put on the defense, which has been subpar of late, anyway.
Turner, who has been loading up on the minutes lately, went another 38 minutes and had five rebounds and five assists. But, like many others, he is playing out of position.
"I just feel so bad for Evan right now," Collins said. "We're asking him to guard a point guard, to handle the ball, to get us into our offense."
As much as you'd expect the Sixers' offense to be stagnant in Holiday's absence - and it was at times - the defense concerns Collins the most, and it showed at the worst of times - the fourth quarter.
O.J. Mayo scored 26, including 16 in the second half, and Chris Kaman added 20 for the Mavericks, who scored 17 points off turnovers to only six for the Sixers.
No Sixer came out of the locker room to warm up for the second half until less than 5 minutes remained on the clock. That's very late. No one would say whether it was a long halftime speech by Doug Collins . . . Ageless guard Derek Fisher strained his knee in the first quarter and did not return for the Mavs . . . Arnett Moultrie was the only available Sixer not to play.