It’s probably too early to acknowledge that the Dallas Mavericks might have turned the corner Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.
But the Mavericks did turn some collective heads with their stellar performance against the tough-minded Washington Wizards.
Pushed to the brink over and over again, the Mavericks stood their ground against one of the NBA’s best teams and got out of town with a hard-fought 105-102 triumph over the Wizards.
In racking up their fifth consecutive win, the Mavericks finished this short road trip 2-0 and padded their record to 9-3 going into Friday’s home game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
On this night, heroes were in abundance.
Monta Ellis poured in 18 of his season-high 34 points in the first quarter. Brandan Wright came off the bench and collected 14 points, six rebounds and enough high-wire dunks to keep the crowd of 16,374 oohing and aahing.
Dirk Nowitzki, meanwhile, rolled his left ankle early in the fourth quarter, but returned just in time to drill a gut-check 3-pointer to help stave off a Wizards rally.
But it was the smallest man on the court, J.J. Barea, who stood the tallest when the game was still there for the taking. Barea drained back-to-back jumpers, and added a 3-pointer — all within 60 seconds — to put the Mavs ahead 99-95 with 1:59 to go.
“J.J. was vintage J.J. in a Mavericks uniform,” said Tyson Chandler, who grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked three shots. “I’ve watched him do that countless times.”
On a night when starting point guard Jameer Nelson was 2-of-12 from the field and backup point guard Devin Harris sat out with a sore lower right leg, the 23 inspirational minutes off the bench by Barea were sorely needed.
“He played great, he made plays, he made shots, he made some defensive plays,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He came up huge.
“With Devin out tonight somebody’s minutes were going to get stretched out. He was playing well, so we went with him down the stretch and he delivered big-time.”
Barea, who also delivered six of the Mavericks’ 18 assists, shook off a double team and found Nowitzki for a 3-pointer that put the Mavs ahead 102-97 with 1:20 left. Less than a minute before that, Barea lay on the floor for a few minutes when he was hit in the face while drawing a charging foul from Bradley Beal.
“I’ve been hit in the face before,” Barea said. “It’s just part of it. So I just gathered myself and came back.”
Nowitzki also gathered himself and came back strong after he rolled his left ankle and went to the locker room.
“I stepped on [Kris] Humphries’ foot and just rolled it a little bit like I’ve done a million times in my career,” said Nowitzki, who was 4-of-12 from the field. “I just had to walk it off and come back in and re-taped it and came right back out, popped some pills, and I was able to finish the game.”
Without some early marksmanship from Ellis, this game could have gotten out of hand quickly. Ellis scored 18 of his points on 6-of-7 shooting in a first quarter that saw his teammates score only five points on 1-of-12 shooting.
“The thing was I was making shots, the ball was going down and my team stayed with it,” said Ellis, who had 24 points at the half. “How much I did in the first half they came and did it in the second half, and it was a total team effort to come out and get this win.”
A much-needed road win against one of the NBA’s best teams.