The elephant in the room dogging the Dallas Mavericks this season has been their inability to hold their ground against top teams in the Western Conference.
That albatross has now been removed from around the Mavs’ neck.
Thanks to 48 minutes of persistent play and a 14-4 game-ending run, the Mavs won Monday’s physical battle and got out of FedExForum with a 103-95 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
In opening the second half of their season, the Mavs (29-13) are now a half-game behind the third-seeded Grizzlies (29-12) in the rugged West standings. The victory also gives the Mavs a 2-8 record against the top eight teams in the Western Conference.
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“We talked about it before the game today that we needed to be aggressive and get some wins against good teams,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half. “We’ve got to step it up, and I think that’s what we did.”
The manner in which they survived Monday is something the Mavs can carry into Wednesday night’s game at Minnesota. Dallas led for the majority of the game, only to see the Grizzlies take their first lead since 4-2 when Mike Conley nailed a 3-pointer to put Memphis ahead 91-89 with 4:01 to go.
But instead of blinking, the Mavs rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
Rajon Rondo, saddled with early foul trouble, ignited the rally with a pair of baskets. Nowitzki, who scored eight of the 14 points down the stretch, laid the ball in off a feed from Monta Ellis for a 99-93 lead.
Another basket and a pair of free throws by Nowitzki padded the Mavs’ lead to 103-95 with 38.9 seconds to go. It was a gritty performance by the Mavs, who battled the Grizzlies on the boards to a 42-42 standstill.
“I’ve got a couple of scratches and bruises,” said Tyson Chandler, who registered his 18th double-double of the season after finishing with 10 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. “It’s a wrestling match down there.”
With Rondo on the bench, Devin Harris (12 points) provided some early firepower as the Mavs led 25-16 after the first period. Ellis, who had 15 of his 25 points in the first half, helped the Mavs to a 53-46 advantage at the midway point.
“It starts a difficult second-half schedule,” coach Rick Carlisle said of the game. “We played a favorable schedule in the first 41 [games].
“Our record looks good, but we’re in for a different kind of competition in the second half. We knew if you’re going to start it out, this is the way to start it out — on the road in Memphis against this physical, smash-mouth team.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760