Mavs on Treadmill of “Pretty-Goodness”

Mar 7, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle reacts to a referee call during the first half of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Trail Blazers 103-98. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks are in a nice, fun, good, weird, bad spot. They are likable as a team, and they like each other, too — a refreshing change from last year’s odious experience with the hemorrhoidal Rajon Rondo. And they are bobbing along as the fifth/sixth best team in the West, a handful of slots higher than most “experts’’ predicted.

But at the same time, as exhibited again yesterday in a 115-104 loss at Houston, they show every sign of being a tick shy of “true contention’’ — and short of getting even more lucky health-wise, they are stuck there.

James Harden scored 23 points, with 15 rebounds and 10 assists and was the best player on the floor in leading Houston to the comeback win. Dallas competed with ex-Rocket Chandler Parsons scoring a season-high 31, hinting again that his comeback from off-season knee surgery is a ramp-up in progress. And Dirk Nowitzki (19 points) is playing through what is hoped is a fluid-on-the-knee issue and nothing more.

But for the second straight game, following a close home loss to OKC, the Mavs — now 25-21 — have put on display the quite-probable-fact that they are not on the dreaded “treadmill of mediocrity’’ (owner Mark Cuban’s clever phrasing from a decade ago) but are on a “treadmill of pretty-goodness”… which ultimately isn’t good enough.

These Mavs have a DNA that is all about “clutch,’’ and maybe that’s one reason they entered the fourth quarter in this Sunday matinee up a point. But this isn’t a very good defensive bunch, so even with Dwight Howard (ankle) sitting out, Trevor Ariza (a season-high 29) could not be controlled. And Josh Smith — re-acquired just this weekend in a trade with the Clippers — got comfy again with Houston with a season-high 16.

And let me tell you, as somebody who is a Mavs homer and a chronicler of their exploits for 20 years…when you have to write “season-high scoring’’ for multiple players on the other team in a single game…you’ve got issues. “We slugged it out for two quarters,’’ said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, “but we were unable to hold the line from there.’’

Like Parsons, Wesley Matthews is recovering from serious off-season surgery and playing his way back to excellence. Like Dirk, Zaza Pachulia (having a terrific season) is hopefully going to be OK but he sat out this one amid Achilles concerns. But even in the most optimistic scenario as it regards the NBA Playoffs, “slugging it out’’ but ultimately being “unable to hold the line from there’’ might be the fate of these “treadmill of pretty-goodness’’ Mavs.

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Mike Fisher has over 30 years of covering professional sports and has done so based in Dallas since 1990. 'Fish' is an award-winning journalist, TV analyst and radio talk-show personality who serves as the Dallas Cowboys' 'insider' for 105.3 The Fan on the radio and as the Dallas Mavericks' insider for Fox Sports Southwest on TV. Fish is the publisher of , is also a national contributor to FOX Sports, has covered 21 Super Bowls, has authored two best-selling books on the Cowboys (with forewords by Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman) and can be followed at @FishSports on Twitter.