DALLAS -- Lamar Odom is off the hook. For now, anyway.
The most valuable off-season acquisition for the Dallas Mavericks, Odom had basically been a shell of his former self since coming over in a Dec. 10 trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. But he broke out of that shell Friday by scoring a season-high 19 points and collecting five rebounds during a 116-101 win over the Utah Jazz.
Afterward, Odom deadpanned: "I've got a little left in the tank. I didn't expect to play bad 66 games in a row."
The Mavs certainly didn't think it would take 20 games -- almost a third of the season -- before Odom had a breakthrough game. But they've been extremely patient with a player whom they believe can help them repeat as NBA champs.
"He's doing what we're asking him to do, just keep playing basketball, keep staying aggressive," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Look, there's been some bad luck along the way, but you've just got to stay at it, and he has."
Odom, who was a miserable 2 of 14 from the field for just five points during Wednesday's 15-point loss to Minnesota, said folks place much too much emphasis on shot-making when analyzing his game.
"It's about making the right play," Odom said. "Sometimes that involves making shots, sometimes that involves defending well, getting stops, and making defensive plays."
Odom also tried to deflect attention away from him and put it squarely on the Mavs as a whole.
"It's all about winning, at the end of the day," he said. "That's all that really matters to me right now at this stage in my career."
Odom made 7 of 12 shots against the Jazz, including three 3-pointers.
First place on the line
First place in the Southwest Division is at stake when the Mavs (12-8) host San Antonio (12-8) today.
The Mavs hope to restore their reputation after they were manhandled by the Spurs 93-71 on Jan. 5 in San Antonio, even though the Spurs played without All-Star guard Manu Ginobili.
"The last time they gave us a smacking pretty good," center Brendan Haywood said. "So hopefully we're trying to bounce back from that and really put out our A-game."
The Mavs have won four of five and are coming off a game in which they shot 54.9 percent from the field and converted 11 of 19 shots from 3-point range against the Jazz. But the temperature will be a little hotter against the Spurs.
"San Antonio is our rivalry," forward Shawn Marion said. "So you know it's going to be exciting and it's going to be pumped up in here."
With the archrival Spurs in town, the Mavs fully expect Dirk Nowitzki to be back on the court today.
Nowitzki missed the past four games with a sore right knee and conditioning issues. The Mavs went 3-1 without Nowitzki, but they know they won't win any titles without their franchise player.
"The progress has been significant," Rick Carlisle said. "Look, we're going day-to-day and we're keeping a close eye on it."
At least one member of the Mavs' starting backcourt will play tonight.
Delonte West will be back in the lineup after missing Friday's game with a strained right hamstring. Meanwhile, it is not known whether Jason Kidd will play against the Spurs.
Kidd strained his right calf less than two minutes into Friday's game against Utah.
If Kidd can't go, the Mavs will likely have no problems turning to Rodrigue Beaubois. In a very impressive showing against the Jazz, Beaubois contributed season highs in points (22) and assists (seven), and added a career-high four blocks.
"We couldn't have won without him," Brendan Haywood said. "Especially with J-Kidd being hurt so early in the game."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760