This was not what the Dallas Mavericks had in mind when they tipped off Wednesday night against an Orlando Magic team with the NBA’s fifth-worst record.
But after a pair of impressive victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Mavs were in the fight of their lives before eking out a 107-102 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,294.
It was the third straight win for the Mavs (44-25), who are 3-1 on this five-game homestand that ends Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Orlando, meanwhile, dropped to 21-49.
The Mavs led 70-48 with 10:19 remaining in the third quarter and appeared to be coasting to an easy victory. But the Magic fought back and got within 101-100 with just one minute to play after a pair of free throws by Elfrid Payton.
After Devin Harris’ two free throws put the Mavs ahead 103-100, Tyson Chandler blocked a drive by Victor Oladipo. Nikola Vucevic then missed an easy put-back for the Magic, and Al-Farouq Aminu snatched the defensive board for the Mavs and passed it to Monta Ellis.
The Magic fouled Ellis, who split two free throws, leaving Dallas up 104-100 with 21.6 seconds remaining. Oladipo then drained a long 2-pointer to cut the Mavs’ lead to 104-102 with 17.5 seconds to go.
More anxious moments came when Devin Harris missed one of two free throws, opening the door for Orlando to tie the score with a 3-pointer. Oladipo, however, misfired on the 3-point attempt, and Aminu grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He promptly buried two free throws with just 3.8 seconds left as the Mavs finally put away the pesky Magic.
Coach Rick Carlisle made no excuses for the way his team played and had to fight in a frantic second half on national TV.
“This is how it’s been — it hasn’t been easy,” Carlisle said. “When games are on ESPN, you get wacky things happening. Non-shooters start throwing in shots, it happens all the time.
“And when stuff comes at you, you’ve just got to be defiant in making it go away.”
Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with 25 points. He scored 11 of the 21 Dallas points in the third quarter when the game began to tilt in Orlando’s favor.
Chandler Parsons scored five quick points to help the Mavs take a 12-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. Parsons, however, managed to score just three points the rest of the game.
Ellis, meanwhile, powered for 21 points, and Rajon Rondo added 11 assists and scored all nine of his points in the first half.
Rondo, nonetheless, was a little too clever at times and finished the game with eight of the Mavs’ 20 turnovers.
“I like his aggression,” Carlisle said. “There were a couple of times the ball slipped out of his hands, but some of the things were just a little speculative on everybody’s part tonight, not just him.
“He had a bunch of turnovers, but we’ve got to move on and do better. We’ve got a bunch of guys that know better, and we’ve just got to clean it up.”
The Mavs shot 69.2 percent in the first half and led 65-48 at the midway point. But in the second half, the Mavs connected on just 12 of 41 shots.
“Look, we didn’t play well,” Carlisle said. “I know that and we’re going to have to play better. But I’m glad we won.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760