Just when the masses were one swift conversation away from counting the Dallas Mavericks out of the playoff picture, they stepped up and manufactured one of their more impressive road wins of the season.
Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter scored 20 points apiece and the Mavs used some rugged defense in the third quarter to snap a three-game losing streak with a 98-90 triumph over the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.
The victory sets the stage for a Texas showdown as the Mavs (26-32) will play their next two games against the Houston Rockets (32-28).
Dallas plays Sunday night in Houston, and will then host the Rockets on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center.
But before the pair of playoff-implication games against the Rockets, the Mavs were able to get off life support with that much-needed victory over the Nets. And the win was equally important for the Mavs, who dropped three winnable games in a row this past week to the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies.
“They’re all big, and after dropping the last three we needed one and we put together a solid game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We were solid enough to beat one of the better teams in the East, so that’s a good sign for us.”
Dallas used some heady defense to get some separation between itself and the Nets. In building an 83-63 lead, the Mavs held Brooklyn to just 14 points in the opening 14:19 of the second half.
The Mavs were still up by 20 (86-66) with 8:23 left after Nowitzki hit a free throw following the Nets’ second delay of game infraction. But the Nets made a run to get back in the game.
A 24-4 run moved the Nets within 94-90 with 37.4 seconds to go. It was beginning to resemble Wednesday’s 90-84 loss at Memphis when the Mavs, at one time in the second period, led the Grizzlies by 25 points.
But this time the Mavs were able to cross the finish line with a win.
“I think we made it a little more interesting than we wanted to,” said Nowitzki, who also grabbed eight rebounds. “But we hung in there.
“Our lead was big enough and I thought we played well for most of the game. Sometimes when it gets tighter we need to keep playing like that, we need to keep getting stops, we need to play like we’re down all the time.”
O.J. Mayo (17 points) and Mike James each split a pair of free throws to help pad the Mavs’ lead to 96-90 with 20.8 seconds left. And after Deron Williams misfired on a 3-pointer, Carter closed the scoring with two free throws.
Carlisle was most appreciative of the game turned in by James, who had seven points and three assists in 23 minutes.
“He had a real solid floor game,” Carlisle said. “He didn’t shoot it great, but he hit two big 3s.
“He’s a gamer. He goes out there, he’s not afraid, he competes and when there’s open shots he steps into them, and I’ve got a feeling he’s going to be knocking down a bunch of them.”
The Mavs shot 50 percent from the field and scored 17 points off 20 Brooklyn turnovers.
Williams finished with 24 points and just two assists, and also committed seven turnovers against his hometown team.
“I was throwing the ball everywhere and it is just one of those things where you see a guy making some bad passes and you start thinking about it,” Williams said. “They have a long, athletic team and they were getting a lot of deflections when we were trying to make good things happen.”
Indeed, the Mavs made enough good things happen at the most opportune time.
“We played a lot more good minutes than we did in Memphis, for sure,” Carlisle said. “It’s hard to play a perfect 48 minutes in this league, I’ll admit that.
“But we took advantage of our runs, we were able to stave them off a few times, and we had some guys step up and hit some big shots.”