Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks dropped yet another game Tuesday night, this time a 17-point loss to the Indiana Pacers. It was Dallas' third straight loss, and its fifth in the past six games, as the Mavs are now just a half game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the West. After Dallas' loss to the Pacers, in which it fell behind by as many as 20 points, one of the main messages was that the team needed to put in more effort, primarily on the defensive side of the ball.

Daniel Gafford, who the Mavericks acquired ahead of the trade deadline, said that effort is just part of the reason this team has been so susceptible to giving up a ton of points.

"I would say it's just overall effort and communication," Gafford said. "At the end of the day, it's the trust factor with the team that has to level up if we want to at least make that push to get out of the bottom third [in defensive rankings]. Those are some of the main things I've seen, those are some of the main things we've talked about in practice, too."

PJ Washington Jr., who was also traded to the Mavericks in February, echoed the same sentiment.

"Just being able to do all the little stuff; being able to talk on both ends of the floor," he said. "I think it's just will. When we want to on that end, we can. It's going to be impossible to win games if they're scoring over 30 points in every quarter, no matter who the team is. We can score 120 points every game and still lose. For us, it's just that end and we've got to make that a point of emphasis."

The lack of effort is easy to see with this team, not just against the Pacers, but really in each of Dallas' most recent losses. And the stats support that, too. Since the All-Star break, the Mavericks have ranked dead last in defense, allowing 126 points a night. It's an issue that's plagued the Mavericks for several seasons now, especially their perimeter defense, which is allowing the fourth most wide-open 3s since the All-Star break with 22.3 per game. And while hearing all the players and coaches talk about how the effort needs to improve and how the vibes are still positive in the locker room, at some point, you have to put words into action, and so far, we've seen a lot of inconsistency from the Mavericks.

This is a team that just a couple of weeks ago was on a seven-game winning streak before hitting this lull. During that span, the Mavericks had the No. 1 defense in the league, limiting opponents to just 104.5 points a night. You could argue that Dallas isn't as bad as their recent stretch of games or as dominant as that winning streak, but rather somewhere in the middle. The issue is the Mavericks have been wading in the mediocre pool for the past two seasons. Despite the patience coach Jason Kidd has tried to preach, there are only 20 games left in the regular season for Dallas to prove they are better than a team that is just six games above .500.

We saw how the bottom fell out from the Mavericks last season as they tumbled down the standings all the way out of even the Play-In Tournament, and while they're not in as much trouble this year for that to happen, getting bounced in the play-in isn't that much better. This is a league where patience runs thin and expectations run high, so looking ahead, the Mavericks have to fear the possibility of Luka Doncic leaving this team. He's posted triple-doubles in each of Dallas' past three losses. If he feels like the Mavericks aren't good enough or serious enough about putting a championship-caliber roster around him, he could be the next star player to request a trade. It was reported at the end of last season the Mavericks were worried that Doncic could look to leave as early as the summer of 2024, and if that's the case, then a lot is riding on how this season ends for Dallas. 

Beyond worrying about Doncic, if the season ends with Dallas losing in the play-in, Kidd could be on the hot seat this offseason. Despite coaching this team to a Western Conference finals appearance in his first year as coach in 2021-22, the Mavericks have significantly regressed. Since Dallas had the No. 7 defense during that conference finals run, they've free fallen to No. 25 last year and are 23rd this season. If the Mavericks have another disappointing end to the season, a coaching change may be needed to get this team beyond its middle-of-the-pack status in an insanely competitive Western Conference.