This time the Dallas Mavericks did what they had to do to hang onto a double-digit lead.
Still smarting from Wednesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavs hung on Friday night and squeezed past the Phoenix Suns 110-107 at the US Airways Center.
The Mavs (24-17) have a quick turnaround as they host the Portland Trail Blazers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at American Airlines Center.
In reaching the halfway point of the season Friday, the Mavs are seven games better than they were at this juncture last season when they were 17-24 at the midway point.
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“We’re still right in the middle of things,” owner Mark Cuban said. “We’re only a couple of games out of a home-court advantage. No one is just dominating the West anymore.”
Before the game, Cuban talked about how up and down backup point guard Shane Larkin has been this season. The rookie from Miami was up Friday night.
Larkin scored a season-high 18 points and also had five assists and a pair of steals to help the Mavs vault past the Suns, who dropped to 22-17 and one game behind Dallas in the Western Conference standings.
Four straight free throws by Larkin gave the Mavs a 110-105 lead with 11.1 seconds left. Then, Goran Dragic scored to get the Suns within three with 6.7 seconds left.
Vince Carter tried to inbound the ball on the ensuing sequence, but it bounced off Monta Ellis, then landed in the chest of Carter, who was still standing out of bounds.
That gave the ball back to the Suns. However, P.J. Tucker’s long two-pointer rimmed in and out, and Markieff Morris’ field goal attempt near the basket also missed its mark.
The Mavs got 24 points and seven assists from Ellis, 21 points from Dirk Nowitzki and 16 points and seven rebounds from Shawn Marion.
Larkin played a season-high 27 minutes for two reasons. First, starting point guard Jose Calderon was limited to just 18 minutes because of a right knee contusion.
Also, rookie Gal Mekel, who has shared backup time with Larkin, underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery on Friday and is out indefinitely.
Because of what transpired against the Suns, the Mavs believe their long-range future this season is bright.
“We’re in the race,” center Brandan Wright. “We’ve got an opportunity to improve ourselves.
“We’re starting to play a little bit better despite what happened [Wednesday against the Clippers]. The second half of the season is going to go by fast, and we’ve got to capitalize on every opportunity we have.”
The Mavs capitalized on their opportunities Friday night as they never trailed against the Suns, who are now in eighth place in the West playoff race and looking up at Dallas.
Behind some brisk early shooting, the Mavs led 36-30 after the first quarter and 58-56 at the half. They were able to increase their lead to 84-75 going to the fourth quarter, and at one point in the second half led by as much as 12 points.
But unlike Wednesday night against the Clippers when the Mavs lost the game after blowing a 17-point lead with just 4:48 to go, this time Dallas did what was necessary to win.
The victory enabled the Mavs to end the first half on a positive note.
“If we can just stay in the mix, get better, be healthy and play great basketball at the end of the year, who knows,’’ Cuban said. “Anything is possible.”