PHILADELPHIA -- Down 15 points and playing without three guards in their rotation, no one would have blamed the Dallas Mavericks if they would have simply packed it in Friday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.
But the defending NBA champions suddenly flipped a switch, changed to a higher gear defensively, and rolled out of Wells Fargo Center with a 82-75 triumph over the Sixers.
It was the Mavericks' season-high sixth consecutive victory as they became the seventh team to win at least 20 games this season. Now, the defensive-minded Mavericks will take their 20-11 record into Madison Square Garden on Sunday for a noon game against Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half and the Mavericks slammed the door on Philadelphia defensively. The Sixers, who led 41-26 with 6:36 remaining in the second quarter, scored only eight points in the third period as they were smothered by a Mavericks' defense that has become one of the NBA's best.
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"We feel like we're never out of it," said Nowitzki, who was 8-of-11 from the field in the second half after going 2-of-11 from the floor in the first half. "We showed that last year in the playoffs when we were down 16 with a couple of minutes to go.
"We feel like when we get stops we can get hot at any time. Nobody panicked."
The Mavericks trailed 51-37 at the half, but opened the third quarter with a blistering 19-2 run to assume a 56-53 lead. A dozen of those points came from Nowitzki, who had his way with Elton Brand.
"Dirk is a great player and he is obviously feeling better now," Mavericks' coach Rick Carlisle said. "He has put together great games our last six games and at this point it is not a shock."
What is a shock is the way the Mavericks are body-slamming teams on defense. After the Sixers went 20-of-44 from the field and scored 51 points in the first half, they converted only 9-of-42 shots -- 21.4 percent -- and scored only 24 points in the second half.
"I think our energy on defense has been good," said Nowitzki, who also had a game-high 12 rebounds. "We've got some length in the paint, and we've got some guard length on the perimeter, and guys are working together.
"If you want to be a good defensive team, you can't do it with one or two guys. You've got to have five guys rotating, scrambling and rebounding."
The Mavericks played without three guards -- Jason Terry, Delonte West and Rodrigue Beaubois. Terry missed the game for personal reasons, West underwent successful surgery Friday after fracturing his right ring finger Wednesday against Denver, and Beaubois missed the game due to the death of his father.
In that trio's absence, Dominique Jones played 21 minutes and contributed 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. And Jason Kidd flirted with a triple-double before finishing with nine points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 30 minutes.
"Everybody talks about our age, but we all feel like basketball is basketball," Kidd said. "We might not be conventional in our lineups.
"But we just go out there, take advantage of our height in some different positions, and then play from there."
A 9-0 run helped the Mavericks move out to a 72-63 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Sixers got within 80-75 with 1:46 left, but never could threaten thereafter.
"The story of the game was our defense," Carlisle said. "Right now that is our identity as a team."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760