Sunday, March 8, 2009

DALLAS | When former Washington coach Dick Motta coached the 1980-81 Mavericks expansion team, the players were having a particularly poor night. By halftime, Motta was steamed.

In the hallway leading to the locker room, he walked past the halftime entertainment - a Bengal tiger and a professional trainer.

Motta asked the trainer to bring the tiger in the locker room, where the coach confronted the players and told them they’d better start rebounding or he was going to let the tiger loose.

Ed Tapscott can relate. For the second consecutive night, he watched as his team was mauled in the third quarter, and the result was the fifth straight loss for the Wizards, who fell to the Mavericks 119-103.

One night after suffering a 22-point loss to the Spurs, Caron Butler returned to the Wizards lineup after missing three straight games with a sore left hamstring. With Butler back in the lineup, the Wizards were in control for much of the first two quarters and were in a 51-51 tie at halftime.

But the Mavericks went on a 9-0 run midway through the period to take a 10-point lead into the fourth, and that deficit was too much for the Wizards to overcome.

Tapscott was perplexed by the poor third-quarter efforts.

“I said, ‘Guys, we are obviously doing something wrong in terms of our warmups because we come out and it’s fairly even game,’ ” he said. “It’s right there at half. Then immediately we’re down five or six, but another [9-0] run and you’re down 12. We just cannot afford those types of deficits.”

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Butler had 20 points and nine rebounds. Butler was uncertain that he could play before the game but then went out and played 42 minutes.

“I got a little fatigued at the end,” Butler said, “but I specifically asked Coach to let me push it out, let me play on it.”

Jamison played 40 minutes. Despite Washington’s 14-49 record, Tapscott said his two veterans would play as many minutes as they want.

“The young guys that’s here now and that’s going be here next year, they’ve got to figure out a way somehow, some way to play with us,” Butler said. “So it’s important for us to be out there with them.”

But at this point, Butler said, the Wizards are “playing for your pride.”

“You’re playing for the city still,” he said. “Everybody’s still supporting us. We’ve got loyal fans, diehard fans. We’ve got to at least go out there and leave the effort out there.”

Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field, but the Mavericks, who played without injured forward Josh Howard (ankle), had a little more firepower. They were led by Dirk Nowitzki with 34 points and Jason Terry with 33. Some of those points came late as Dallas outscored the Wizards 14-6 in the final four minutes.

Tapscott said he is still looking for ways to jump-start his team in the third quarter, adding that he will try another tactic Monday when the Wizards finish up their four-game road trip in Minnesota.

“We’ll keep looking at different things,” Tapscott said. “I bring them out [of the locker room] early, I bring them out late. We’ll try something new Monday. We may not have a halftime. I’ll just have the huddle at halfcourt, and we’ll run the offense for 12 minutes. Something like that to keep us focused. If you see us running the offense at halftime in Minnesota, you’ll know I was true to my word.”

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