With no Dirk Nowitzki to rely on, the Dallas Mavericks knew the degree of difficulty in trying to upend the Philadelphia 76ers went up a notch or two Saturday night.
Make that three or four notches.
The Sixers clawed and scratched and gave Dallas all it could handle before the Mavs were able to overcome tense moments and emerge from Wells Fargo Center with a 110-103 victory.
Coupled with winning the opener of this four-game road trip in Toronto on Friday, the Mavs improved to 13-5 on the season, Meanwhile, the Sixers (0-16) set a franchise record for number of losses without a win to open a season and are two losses away from tying the NBA record, 0-18, established by the New Jersey Nets in 2009.
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Still, despite their misfortunes and the embarrassing game they lost in Dallas by a whopping 53 points on Nov. 11, the Sixers were within four points of the Mavs with less than six minutes remaining. That certainly set off some alarms back in North Texas.
“We knew the difficulties of the game,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “We knew we were playing a desperate team with a lot of pride, even though they’re undermanned.
“It’s been a tough year for them, but I respect their coach [Brett Brown], I respect how hard they play. We talked all about it [Saturday] afternoon in our meeting on just how we’re going to be going up against a team that’s going to be playing like their pants are on fire the whole night, and they did.’’
While that may be true about the Sixers, the Mavs are happy that guard Monta Ellis also played as if his pants were on fire. Just as he did Friday in Toronto when he poured in 10 unanswered points with the game on the line, Ellis scored on a blow-by layup and a jumper to give Dallas a 102-94 lead after the Sixers had gotten within 98-94.
Then, 3-point baskets by Chandler Parsons (17 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Richard Jefferson — followed by another jumper form Ellis — stretched the Mavs’ lead to 110-98 with 1:12 to go.
“I’m just picking my spots,’’ said Ellis, who finished with 18 points, five assists and three steals. “Just having the confidence in myself to knock down that jump shot they give me at times when we need it.
“Tonight we were missing Dirk, so it’s just one of those times when it came down I knew Coach was going to get the ball to me, and I had to make plays for me and others. And I just took what the defense gave me.’’
Nowitzki didn’t dress because the Mavs, who play Tuesday at Chicago, decided to give him some much-needed rest. Jameer Nelson also missed his third straight game with back spasms, and Raymond Felton (ankle) still has yet to play in a game this season.
But the Mavs received a boost from two seldom-used players — Charlie Villanueva and Jefferson. Villanueva was 3-of-4 from 3-point range and collected 11 points in only nine minutes, while Jefferson finished with 10 points in 26 minutes.
“Richard Jefferson hasn’t played much lately, but he stepped in and played a huge role in the game,’’ Carlisle said. “So did Villanueva.
“Without those two guys stepping up, this is a much, much more difficult game.’’
The Mavs were clinging to a narrow 28-26 lead at the end of the first quarter, which they widened to 58-51 at intermission. But the pesky Sixers closed the gap to 90-86 after the third quarter and remained hot on the Mavs’ heels until Ellis decided to take over down the stretch.
Also, Tyson Chandler drilled a late jumper and registered his ninth double-double, compiling 20 points and 13 rebounds. Still, after recent surprising losses to a pair of short-handed teams in Houston and Indiana, the Mavs were cautious in their approach to Saturday’s game.
“It’s more so a team that you feel like you’re not supposed to lose to,’’ said Chandler, who sported a busted lip due to an errant elbow by Sixers center Henry Sims. “No offense to them, but you feel like you’re supposed to get the win.
“When they made the run right now, I saw it against Brooklyn and I saw it a couple of games that they played this year, that they kind of stick around. I knew at that moment we had to start putting together some stops and putting together plays, and fortunately we were able to get them.’’