ORLANDO, Fla. -- Searching for some more continuity, the Dallas Mavericks started the second half of the season the same way they started the first half. With a win.
Using a balanced attack and playing with supreme confidence, the Mavs placed seven players in double-figure scoring and held off the pesky Orlando Magic 111-105 on Sunday night before 18,192 at the Amway Center.
It was the Mavs' fifth win in the last six games as they ran their record to 18-24. The victory also had coach Rick Carlisle eagerly talking about the playoffs.
The Mavs are now just three game behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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And with the Mavs not playing another game until they host the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, Carlisle will have plenty of time to get his team focused on dodging whatever troubles lie ahead.
"We're in the hunt for the playoffs, and that's going to be our motivation," Carlisle said. "We've got three quality practice days coming up and we've got to make the best of them and we've got to keep improving as a team."
Against the Magic, the Mavs had to dodge some unexpected minefields.
Orlando chopped a 13-point deficit to 104-102 with 51.2 seconds remaining when Nikola Vucevic nailed a jumper from the corner. Vince Carter then found Darren Collison open in the right corner, and Collison drained a cold-blooded 3-pointer that put the Mavs ahead 107-102 with 31.9 seconds left.
"The biggest play of the game," Carlisle said. "It was pretty clear at that time we needed to space the floor, and Vince penetrated and he had three options, and Darren stepped into that thing with a lot of confidence and knocked it in. "That was a big shot for us, a big shot for him and we really needed it."
A bucket by J.J. Redick got the Magic within 107-105 with 25.6 seconds to go. A few seconds later, Dirk Nowitzki (12 points, seven rebounds) buried two free throws and the Mavs wrapped up a much-needed victory.
The Magic burst out of the gate quickly, hitting 8-of-13 shots and piling up an 18-4 lead. On the strength of Elton Brand and Carter, Mavs went on a brisk 15-0 scoring spree and took a 26-24 lead after the first period.
"It was 18-4, but me and Vince joke about that," said Brand, who contributed 14 points and six rebounds. "If it's not going well at the start, that's our job to come clean things up, and that's what we did.
"We cut the lead down to one and kind of righted the ship a little bit. Whatever the team needs from me, that's my role."
Brand was playing so well that he started the second half at center in place of Chris Kaman.
"He had a great rhythm going in the second quarter, so I decided to roll with it," Carlisle said of Brand. "Then as luck would have it -- kind of how things have gone this year -- he kind of went cold at the start of the third.
"And the irony was Kaman gave us a huge lift off the bench. He gave us the same lift that Elton gave us the first half."
Shawn Marion set the table for the Mavs with 20 points and 10 rebounds, O.J. Mayo and Carter had 15 points apiece, Kaman finished with 13 points and eight boards, and Collison added 11 points and nine assists.
"Balance has got to be one of the keys to our team," Carlisle said. "Until Dirk gets all the way back we can't heap it all on him.
"We can't really heap it all on anybody the way we're set up now."
The way the Mavs are set up now, they don't want to lose any traction while they wait to play the Spurs.
"Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is an opportunity to get our team better, to clean some things up, to shore up some weakness, work on some strengths," Carlisle said. "We've got to get the right combination of work and rest during that period, and the hard games keep coming."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760