As their season heads into its final frantic quarter, the Dallas Mavericks have suddenly experienced some much-needed growth along the way.
Such was the case Friday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Mavs led the Detroit Pistons by a seemingly comfortable 15 points with less than 10 minutes left, lost the lead, then staged a rally and emerged with a 102-99 victory.
Just a short time ago, these were the type of games the Mavs would lose. But on Friday, the Mavs showed a lot of poise in winning a game that helped their playoff chances.
Although Charlie Villanueva missed a wide-open 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game, the Mavs figured it was about time they dodged a bullet.
“With this team we’ll take a win like that in November, in March and in April,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. “It doesn’t really matter, especially on the road.
“We’ve been losing road games all year long, and we don’t have a great record on the road, so this is one we’ll take.”
Friday’s game was the opener of a four-game road trip for the Mavs, who play at Minnesota on Sunday.
The win also increased the Mavs’ record to 28-33 and put them within 3 1/2 games of the eighth-place Utah Jazz, who lost Friday to Chicago, 89-88 in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.
But the Mavs know they must stop blowing leads of this magnitude if the playoffs are a part of their future.
“For some reason every time we have a lead in the fourth quarter we find a way to give it up,” Nowitzki said. “It’s amazing we always give up a nine or 10-point run.
“But at least we finally found a way to get down and get a couple of big stops.”
Mike James opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Vince Carter followed with consecutive 3-pointers that helped the Mavs soar to an 88-73 lead with 9:44 remaining in the game.
However, back came the Pistons, who got the crowd into the game by putting on a furious display of 3-point shooting. Khris Middleton’s 3-pointer finished a 24-8 run by Detroit and lifted the Pistons ahead 97-96 with 2:29 to go.
But Nowitzki scored from the right side of the perimeter, and hit another from the left side, giving the Mavericks a 100-97 lead.
A tip-in by Villanueva got Detroit within 100-99 with six seconds remaining. But Darren Collison’s two free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining accounted for the game’s final points, and the Mavs were able to win their second straight game after losing by 33 points last Sunday in Houston.
“We didn’t do a good job when they made their run in the fourth, but we held them off and got the win, and that’s a positive,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That last play we made a mistake [on Villanueva’s open 3-point shot].
“We blew that coverage, but we got lucky. But if you do enough good things during the course of a game the basketball gods sometimes are kind to you in that situation.”
O.J. Mayo led seven Mavs players in double-figures, scoring 22 points, including eight in the first period that ended with Dallas leading 22-17.
The Mavs played without Shawn Marion, who is day-to-day with a left calf contusion that he suffered late in Wednesday’s victory over Houston.
Still, the Mavs made this game much more uncomfortable than it should have been.
“We like it uncomfortable,” Carlisle said. “They made a run, we missed some shots, made a couple of mistakes and boom, you can knock a 15-point lead down to six in a minute or so, and that’s kind of what happened.
“From there it was more of an uphill battle, but we got it done. But we’ll take it and run and get out of here.’’