With a brutal three-game road trip staring them in the face, the Dallas Mavericks knew they could ill-afford to stub their toes Monday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.
So the Mavs pushed all the right buttons, protected the basketball and showed some balance en route to snapping a two-game losing streak and upending the Pelicans 102-93 before a sellout crowd of 20,367 at American Airlines Center.
The Mavs (40-22) became the sixth team to win at least 40 games this season and assured themselves of finishing with a winning record at home.
Monta Ellis scored eight straight points down the stretch and finished with a game-high 20, and Rajon Rondo tallied 13 of his 19 points in the first period, which ended with the Mavs ahead 32-31.
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It was the type of solid backcourt showing that the Mavs had been searching for since they acquired Rondo in a Dec. 18 trade with the Boston Celtics.
Richard Jefferson (16 points, five rebounds), Dirk Nowitzki (14 points, eight rebounds), Amar’e Stoudemire (14 points, two steals) and Devin Harris (14 points) gave the starting backcourt plenty of support as the Mavs snapped the Pelicans’ five-game winning streak.
“We had to grind this one out,” Stoudemire said. “It was an important win for us to get.
“We’ve got a tough road trip ahead of us, and we had to make sure we came out tonight with some aggressiveness from the start and got this win.”
The third quarter was the game-changer for the Mavs. After trailing 58-55 at the half and 60-55 early in the period, the Mavs scored the ensuing 16 points to go ahead 71-60.
The Mavs — 21-10 at home — outscored the Pelicans 25-13 in the third quarter. It was the fewest points the Mavs have allowed in a third quarter this season.
“We came out of the locker room with a lot of fire and a lot of attitude and some real disposition,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The bottom line is we got to play the entire 48 [minutes].”
The Mavs are so efficient in the second half that they’re now 30-0 when leading after the third quarter.
They also committed just seven turnovers Monday, which ties a season low.
“The history of the league is if you go in the fourth quarter with a lead you’ve got a chance to win globally,” Carlisle said. “That’s why first halves and the first three quarters are so important.
“One big reason we’ve had success is Monta Ellis. He did it again tonight — he really closed the game down, made plays, made shots on offense.”
After Ellis poured in eight consecutive points, Nowitzki fired in a 3-pointer and the jubilant Mavs went up 100-89 with two minutes to go.
Center Tyson Chandler missed his third game in a row with a left hip flexor, and small forward Chandler Parsons sat out his fifth consecutive game with a sprain and bone bruise to his left ankle. Their absence was definitely felt, but the Mavs hope to have both back when they open a three-game road trip Thursday in Portland.
“We’ve got to build some character,” Stoudemire said. “We’ve got some tough teams ahead of us. We’ve got to make sure we stay together and keep working.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760