In his own special way, Mike James turned back the hands of time Sunday night at American Airlines Center and led the Dallas Mavericks to a critical 113-108 triumph over the Utah Jazz.
The game’s outcome had serious playoff implications since the Mavs and Jazz are now 34-36 and two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. However, if the Mavs and Jazz wound up tied for the eighth spot, Utah would get the playoff nod by virtue of winning the season series against Dallas, 2-1.
Tiebreakers notwithstanding, the Mavs are just two games under .500 for the first time since they were 12-14 following a 110-95 loss to the Miami Heat back on Dec. 20. And they can thank James — their fiery point guard — for the big push against the Jazz, who have dropped nine straight road games.
Playing like he’s 27 instead of 37, James tallied a season-high 19 points. He converted 7-of-10 buckets, including 3 of 4 from 3-point territory, as the Mavs won for the eighth time in their last 11 games.
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“I’m a blessed man of God,” said James, who played 32 minutes and handed out five assists. “I try to just continue to stay humble, stay focused and just work.
“I’m a working bee, I’ve always been a working bee, I’m always going to be a working bee. I look forward to tomorrow, because tomorrow is a day I get an opportunity to get better.”
The 19 points James poured in were the most for him since he scored 19 on Feb. 20, 2009 against the New Jersey Nets while he was a member of the Washington Wizards.
“I thought he played a good all-around game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I thought his defense was solid, (he had) timely shot-making, made good plays and made timely plays.
“We need him to keep doing what he’s doing.”
The Mavs also need to keep doing what they did during a span of 7:25 to bridge the third and fourth quarters.
Dallas broke loose from a 69-69 tie on a pair of Vince Carter free throws with 5:20 remaining in the third period. From there to 9:55 left in the game, the Mavs had used a spirited 20-2 rally to take an 89-71 lead.
Before that game-changing rally by the Mavs, there had been 23 lead changes, including 11 in the second half’s first five minutes.
“It’s a solid win for us,” said Shawn Marion, who contributed 15 points, six boards and three steals. “Just keep on sharing the ball, we can get some stops and it can open up the floor for us.”
It was another balanced night for the Mavs, who also got 17 points from Dirk Nowitzki, 15 from Vince Carter, 13 from Darren Collison and 10 each from O.J. Mayo and Elton Brand.
Despite the win, the Mavs were perturbed that they let a 21-point lead — 98-77 with 7:28 left — dwindle to just three points. In fact, Dallas held a 104-87 cushion with just 3:12 remaining, only to get outscored by the Jazz, 21-7, as Utah got within 111-108 with 7.3 seconds left.
But Collison drilled a pair of free throws with 5.7 ticks to go to end the scoring.
“The end of the game was ugly,” Carlisle said. “We got through it.
“I guess I’ve been around this game long enough to realize and understand that you can’t make a win feel like a loss. [The Jazz] did a good job, we did a horrible job, but we got the win, so we’ve got to move on.”