After hitting a serious bump in the road for about six weeks recently, the Dallas Mavericks have suddenly straighten themselves out and are hitting their stride at just the right time.
Utilizing yet another night when they were able to kick their offense into a higher gear, the Mavs placed seven players in double-figure scoring en route to running over the Los Angeles Lakers 120-106 Sunday night before 18,071 at the Staples Center.
Led by Tyson Chandler’s 20 points and nine rebounds, the Mavs (49-31) tied their win total from a year ago and need only one victory in their last two games to reach 50 wins for the first time since the 2010-11 championship season.
“It’s always great for a franchise to get 50 wins, especially in a tough Western Conference,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 16 points in 29 minutes. “We’ve got two chances to get one win.
“But if you ask me, it’s obviously more important to be healthy and get some more guys rested than to go for a 50-game winning season. But, especially in the tough West where there’s a lot of great teams, it is a good accomplishment.”
In recording their first 4-0 sweep of the Lakers in franchise history and their seventh win in a row over the Lakers, the Mavs rested reserves Devin Harris and Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday. And starting small forward Chandler Parsons missed his fourth consecutive game as he continues to deal with swelling in his right knee.
But on this night, with the Lakers (21-59) suffering through their worst season ever, the Mavs shot 54.2 percent from the field, distributed 31 assists, made 10 of 21 shots from 3-point range, and won the rebounding battle 42-37. It was a night when there was not much to complain about – other than those four points Monta Ellis managed on just 2-of-8 shooting.
“One of the things we emphasized coming in was the rebounding because we’ve really been getting hurt by these guys in all of the three other games,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We out-rebounded them and we did a much better job of keeping them off the offensive boards.
“They’re a persistent team and they have young guys that keep coming at you and they’re playing free out there. So it’s not an easy game, and I thought we did a good job.”
Leading only 94-87, the Mavs used a 14-3 run to put the game away. Charlie Villanueva and Chandler each scored four points in the game-deciding run, and Raymond Felton added a jumper as the Mavs bolted ahead 108-90 midway through the fourth quarter.
“I think my teammates did a good job of finding me on the [pick and] roll,” said Chandler, who was 9-of-10 from the field while playing 27 minutes. “I think their aggression is what was able to kind of get me open and I just tried to stay active after that.”
Chandler scored eight points and Rajon Rondo added six as the Mavs busted out to a 33-27 lead after the first quarter. Thanks to eight points from Richard Jefferson and six more form Al-Farouq Aminu, Dallas held a 62-57 lead at the half.
Rondo, a free agent this summer who has already been recruited by Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, put on a pretty nice show. In what could have been an audition, Rondo wound up with 11 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, just two rebounds shy of a triple-double.
“Rondo was terrific,” Carlisle said. “[He was] very aggressive and I thought he did a good job on the boards, too.”
Although he was just 4-of-11 from the field, Rondo kept attacking and finding open teammates for easy baskets.
“He looked like he was having fun out there and in a great rhythm, attacking for layups if there was something [inside],” Nowitzki said. “He either found a dump-off for the bigs or the weakside shooters.
“He just looked comfortable and found some of his teammates for some great looks.”
In addition to riding the Rondo wave, the Mavs also got 17 points from Jefferson, 14 points from Villanueva, and 10 points and 10 rebounds from Aminu.
Also, fresh off hitting the game-winning shot in Friday’s 144-143 double-overtime victory at Denver, Felton contributed 15 points in 18 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting.
“I’m just getting an opportunity to play, man, and I’m trying to take advantage and showing what I can do when I’m out there on the court,” Felton said. “I’m just getting out there and doing what I know I can do.”
What the Mavs have done is win three straight while playing with more confidence. It’s the mindset they want heading into the playoffs.
“We’re in good rhythm,” Villanueva said. “But I think we can definitely get better.”
The Mavs, who swept three games from the Lakers last season, are 2-0 on this three-game road trip which ends Monday night in Utah. Dallas closes out the regular season at home Wednesday against Portland before opening the playoffs this weekend as the seventh seed against a team still to be determined.
However, Nowitzki and Chandler won’t even make the trip to Salt Lake City, while Ellis isn’t expected to play.
Despite the way they’ve been able to improve lately, the Mavs, who led 89-82 after the third quarter, want more. Much more.
“We’ve got to use these last [two] games as a way to get better,” Felton said. “We’ve got to work on our game, work on our principles going to the playoffs.
“We really don’t have but about two days or so to practice before we got to go right into the playoffs. So we’ve got to use these two games to get better, for sure.”
And to possibly win 50 games.
“A, it’s always good to win 50 games in a season – that’s a successful season,” Chandler said. “B, we want to be playing great basketball going into the playoffs.
“If we can play great basketball, you know that means we’ll be still continuing to win basketball games.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760