In Willie Cauley-Stein’s words postgame, the Dallas Mavericks are bleeding right now and the team needs to find an answer.

Dallas lost to the Phoenix Suns 111-105 Saturday night. Dropping the team’s record to 8-12 on the season. And out of the five games dropped since beating the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 22, this one was the most painful.

The Mavs battled all night, and at the half, the game was deadlocked at 55 all. After a frantic third quarter that saw the Mavs build a 15 point lead, heading into the fourth it was widdled down to just five points. And by the end of the game, it was Dallas on the wrong side of the scoreboard again. Adding yet another difficult loss to swallow for Mavs fans everywhere.

“I think our effort level was a 10 out of 10 tonight,” Cauley-Stein said Saturday after the game. “This is what this stretch is about. We are bleeding right now and we are trying to stop the bleeding.

“…Our effort level and attitude today was two steps in the right direction.”

Back-to-back losses to the Utah Jazz forced into question the effort level on this Dallas team. Luka Doncic went as far as to say that the Mavs were not playing like they wanted to win games. I wrote about that in the last game journal after the loss. But it’s safe to say that, at least against Phoenix, Dallas played with the necessary effort and intensity that puts it in a position to win the game.

“It was a really disappointing loss because of how hard our guys fought,” Rick Carlisle said after the game. “I loved our attitude heading into the game, and I am just really disappointed for the team.”

Pheonix vs. Dallas by the numbers:

Doncic finished the game with 29 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. The third quarter was where the star left his mark. He exploded for 18 points in the frame of action, going 7-10 from the field and 2-4 from three. He reminded all those watching just how dominant he can be in the scoring department. When he chooses to he can control the floor like a grand-master chess player controls a chessboard. And man is it fun to watch.

“I think the effort was great today, we just had a little bad luck,” Doncic said. “I am really proud of how we reacted with our effort.”

Chris Paul’s explosion:

Regardless of the great team effort, it was the fourth quarter that sealed Dallas’ fate. With the Suns down five points, and still without all-star guard Devin Booker, Chris Paul took over every aspect of the game. He dictated the pace, possessions, and where he wanted to go on the floor. That is what first-ballot Hall of Famers do when their team needs them, right?

Paul finished the game with 29 points, 16 of them coming in the fourth quarter. He went 4-7 from the field during the frame and got to the line eight times. He was a matchup nightmare for Dallas, who up until this point, did a good job in slowing him down.

“He’s a great player,” Carlisle said. “He knows how to win. We had some pretty good possessions against him. But he had too many where he got the better of us, so we’ll have to look at it and see if we can adjust.”

Adjusting against the great point guard is critical because Dallas plays Phoenix again on Monday. And if things go as they did today in the fourth against him, expect another loss at the hands of the Suns.

Looking forward:

The losing streak continued, but the popular theme post-game was pride in the team’s effort. Carlisle said that the Mavs are going through the most difficult portion of their schedule. And all the team is focused on is making it through the challenge together.

So Saturday’s loss was two steps forward and one step back. The effort for Dallas returned, it just wasn’t the outcome that was desperately needed. Winning NBA games is not easy. Snapping a losing streak is even harder. However, with the way the team spoke of its fight, tenacity, and drive Saturday night against Phoenix, one has to believe that there is light at the end of this tunnel.

“We just got to stay together, and fight through this difficult stretch,” Carlisle said. “We are at the height of the difficulty of our schedule. It’s important that we stay in the fight, and stem the tide. We are going to stay in it. And we are going to fight through.”