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Mavericks try to close gap versus Raptors

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks' inability to win their fair share of close games this season is one the primary reasons they have the second-worst record in the NBA.

Dallas (9-25) is 2-16 in games decided by seven or fewer points, including 2-12 in contests decided by six or fewer. That disturbing trend has virtually everyone in the Mavs' organization shaking their heads wondering how to solve one of the franchise's biggest problems.

"These are tough losses, but we have to learn how to close out games," Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki said as the Mavericks prepare to host the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. "If that's not the case, then we're going to keep losing.

"We're going to be in this position hopefully a lot more times the rest of the season. We have to find ways that work, we have to find lineups that work, we have to find ways to get some stops."

Following Saturday's 112-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle repeated again what he believes is at the root of his team's ability to find a way to dig down deep and win a close game.

"The way we're structured, we have some challenges that we just have to work to overcome," Carlisle said. "It's a case where -- as I mentioned a few days ago -- we have to almost be perfect in a lot of areas."

The Mavs recently held a 96-85 lead over the San Antonio Spurs with less than four minutes remaining, but was outscored 13-0 the rest of the way. And in their setback to the Hawks, Dallas moved the ball so well that it had more assists (31) than rebounds (30).

But all that precision on offense got the Mavs was another disappointing loss.

While Dallas tries to solve its problems, Toronto (23-8) have been busy carving out one of the best records in the NBA. The Raptors have the fewest losses in the Eastern Conference and are 12-1 in their last 13 games.

Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan enters the game fresh off of a pair of sterling performances against the Philadelphia 76ers. DeRozan poured in 45 points when the Raptors edged the 76ers 114-109 on Thursday in Philadelphia, and followed that up by tallying 29 points in Saturday's 102-86 victory over the 76ers.

"We need him," Raptors coach Dwane Casey told the Toronto Sun about DeRozan. "We need that spark. He's been playing at a high level."

DeRozan is tied for ninth in the league in scoring with 24.9 points per game. And whenever the Raptors need a critical basket, he is the player they turn to for results.

"He sees the game at a different speed," Casey said. "The game is slowing down for him."

Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry (15.9 points, 7.1 assists) scored a combined 35 in the wins over the 76ers. Lowry's consistent play has yielded consecutive games with at least 10 points and four assists.

Harrison Barnes paces the Mavs in scoring (18.7) and rebounds (6.8), and is averaging 23.3 points in his last four games.

Updated December 25, 2017

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