It took 121 games spanning three seasons, but the Dallas Mavericks finally made a significant step in their program Monday night.
With a 107-88 win over the Orlando Magic, the Mavs won their third straight game and improved to 23-16 on the season. It’s the first time the Mavs have been seven games over .500 since April 21, 2012 when a 93-83 loss in Chicago dropped their record to 36-29 in the next-to-last game of the lockout-shortened campaign.
Coupled with New York’s 98-96 overtime win against Phoenix on Monday, the Mavs are now in seventh place in the Western Conference standings, a full game ahead of the Suns.
Monta Ellis (21 points), Vince Carter (17 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (15 points) were the top producers for the Mavs. But an unlikely candidate also played a pivotal role in the Mavs winning both games of their quick, two-game homestand.
Fresh off sitting the previous two games with what he said was a bout of the flu, Wayne Ellington stepped in and contributed a season-high 12 points and a season-high six rebounds in 21 minutes. Ellington was 5 of 8 from the field, including 2 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“It was tough. I was down; it was painful,” Ellington said of his illness. “But I’m happy to be back. Once you see a couple of easy ones go in, everything else becomes a lot easier, especially from the 3-point line.”
When the Mavs made four straight 3-pointers late in the third period to widen their lead to 84-64, one each came from Ellis, Carter, Ellington and Nowitzki.
Coach Rick Carlisle said he felt Ellington would have an above-average game against the Magic (10-28).
“He did a nice job. He’s a solid player,” Carlisle said. “He does things hard on defense and offensively he plays within himself, so this was good.”
Dallas led 58-36 late in the second period and 59-41 at the half. But the Magic climbed to within 91-82 with 6:17 left following a 3-pointer by Jameer Nelson, who finished with 21 points and seven assists.
The Mavs, though, went on a 9-0 tear as Carter scored four points and Brandan Wright jammed in a fast-break dunk off a feed from Jae Crowder, who finished the run with a 3-pointer to pad Dallas’ lead to 100-82 with 3:35 to go.
The Mavs shot 50.6 percent from the field and held the Magic to 44.7 percent shooting. Dallas also got the best of Orlando on the boards, 40-37, and turned 15 Magic turnovers into 19 points.
“We had quite a few guys that played well,” Carlisle said. “We didn’t have a lot of great performances, but the important thing was to get the win and try to keep everybody’s minutes reasonable, and we got through it.
“This is a team that’s depleted because of injuries and stuff, but they’re an NBA team. They have athletes; they’re well-coached; they play hard. They’re going to make it hard. They’re not going to just give you the game, so you’ve got to play.”
And one Mavs player who played hard was Ellington, who has struggled to fit in with the team in his first season in Dallas.
“Wayne was really good,” said Jose Calderon, who pitched in 13 points. “He had gotten sick, so that was a setback for him. But he was back today, and he played really good basketball.”