SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Slumping Dallas is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. In the locker room, the lingering question is: Do the Mavericks care enough to do anything about it?
Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein followed a breakout offensive performance with 21 points and DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Sacramento Kings over the Mavericks 133-111 on Sunday.
The Mavericks have dropped three straight and 10 of 12. They are ninth in the Western Conference and trail Houston by half a game for the final playoff spot.
Dallas was five games over .500 after beating Orlando on March 1. But more than three weeks later, the injury-plagued Mavericks are wondering if they will miss the playoffs for the second time in 16 seasons.
"We’ve got to decide if we want to go home after the last (regular season) game or not," Wesley Matthews said. "(Do) we want to keep playing for something or not? Do we want to lay everything out on the line every single night nine more times and let the chips fall?"
Lack of defensive intensity surfaced again for the Mavericks. The Kings had 38 points while taking over the game in the second quarter and added 39 in the third. Dallas allowed a season-high for total points and shooting percentage (62.2 per cent).
"I don’t think we got enough stops to make it a game," Nowitzki said. "It started early. We never really made a stand."
The Kings beat Dallas three of four times this season. Rajon Rondo, who played for the Mavericks last year and clashed with coach Rick Carlisle, had no pity for his former team possibly missing the playoffs.
"Yeah, I want them to get their plane ticket as soon as we get ours," said Rondo, who had 11 points and 11 assists. "So any time we can help, that’s what I try to get these guys (his teammates) to focus on. If we’re not going to make the playoffs then let’s help some of these guys go home with us."
Cauley-Stein, the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft, set a career high with 26 points on Friday night against Phoenix and followed up with just his second 20-plus point game.
"He’s creating his own shots and creating his own offence," Cousins said. "He’s just showing that he has the abilities to do a lot."
Darren Collison had 17 points and Seth Curry and Ben McLemore each had 14 for the Kings. The Sacramento bench had a season-high 72 points.
Raymond Felton had 15 points and both J.J. Barea and Nowitzki had 14 for the Mavericks. Matthews and David Lee each scored 12 points. Dallas has lost three of four meetings this season to Sacramento.
Cousins was dominant inside, hitting 7 of 12 shots and getting five assists. He sat out the fourth quarter and played 28 minutes. The Kings made 9 of 20 3-pointers and their overall shooting percentage was the sixth highest in the Sacramento era.
The slumping Mavericks (35-38) fell to three games under .500 for the first time all season. They have lost all three games on their current trip that concludes Monday in Denver.
Curry was scoreless in the first half but made two 3-pointers and scored 14 points in the third quarter, when the Kings outscored Dallas 39-33 to increase their lead to 23 points.
CAULEY-STEIN’S PROGRESS CONTINUES
Cauley-Stein entered Sunday averaging only 7.5 points per game.
Against the Mavericks, he again displayed moves that he hadn’t unveiled before his breakthrough Friday. Heralded for his defence but thought to be lacking offensive skills in college, the Kentucky product was efficient against the Mavericks, making 8 of 11 shots and hitting all five free-throw attempts.
"We’re seeing what Willie can do. It’s the end of the season and he’s playing with a lot of confidence," Rondo said. "There’s not too many restraints on him as there were when he first came in as a rookie. So now he’s a little more relaxed and able to do things that we haven’t seen him do all year."
Mavericks: Deron Williams missed his second straight game with an abdominal strain and returned to Dallas for testing. He will also miss Monday’s game in Denver. … Zaza Pachulia was called for a technical in the second quarter and Matthews got one early in the third. … Nowitzki had scored 20 or more points in the previous nine games he played. He sat out Friday’s loss at Golden State.
Kings: McLemore played in a reserve role. He missed the previous 10 games with a finger-tip injury. … With 29 wins, the Kings are one victory away from their first 30-win season since winning 38 games in 2007-08. … Curry made his second straight start, the first two of his NBA career.
Mavericks: At Denver on Monday night.
Kings: at Portland on Monday night