Don’t let the Dallas Mavericks get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, Western Conference.
OK, so maybe that’s a little (a lot) premature to say. But, the Mavs, who entered Tuesday only three games back of fourth place in the conference, are a team to be reckoned with inside the American Airlines Center. Simply making the playoffs would be a feat in itself.
For what it’s worth, Dallas, which held the No. 8 seed prior to its tip against Portland, was also only 1.5 games away from 14th-place in the conference-o-clutter before Tuesday’s slate.
But the thought is a nice one to ponder, huh, Mavs fans?
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Anyway, Dallas not only won its eighth straight home game on Tuesday, but did so by beating one of the West’s best in fairly conventional fashion, 111-102. It’s the Mavs’ first 8-game home winning streak since their championship season in 2010-11 when they pulled off nine in a row.
“We needed everybody tonight,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “If you look at our stats, all of our guys were a plus, the guys that started and the guys that came off the bench.”
Luka Doncic returned after missing a game with a right hip strain to lead the Mavs with 21 points. DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 17 rebounds, Wesley Matthews poured in 17 points and Dennis Smith Jr. added 12 points and nine assists.
“I would say our defense. We’ve played great defense and I think that’s been key for us,” Doncic said.
Doncic, who entered Tuesday leading all rookies in scoring at 18.5 points per game, was recently named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in October and Nov. He averaged 18.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals and a team-high 33.1 minutes per game during that stretch.
Dallas (12-10) used an 11-0 run in less than 90 seconds toward the end of the first quarter to take an 11-point lead at 28-17. The Mavs, aided by a 5-for-9 effort from deep, closed the first 12 minutes on a 17-3 run to lead 34-20.
A major part of that spurt was the ability of Dallas’ second unit to control the pace and frustrate Portland (13-11) defensively. The starters went out with a 26-17 lead at the 2:12 mark and didn’t return until the 5:27 mark of the second quarter. Over that near 9-minute span, Devin Harris poured in 8 points on 3-of-3 shooting, and J.J. Barea, who was sporting a massive swollen lip due to a mouth laceration, had six.
The starters returned with a 47-34 lead.
Dallas would take a 60-45 lead into the half thanks, in part, to out-rebounding the Trail Blazers 28-16, including 8-1 of the offensive variety. Jordan used his length to frustrate Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, who was only 3-of-7 in the half. Jordan, meanwhile, hit 4-of-5 shots for 11 points (tied with Wesley Matthews for half high).
Carlisle stresses the importance of defensive intensity as often as he breathes, and he got that for about as long as anyone could hope against CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, perhaps the best scoring backcourt in the league at a combined 48.5 ppg. At one point late in the third, the duo was a combined 8-for-25 for 23 points as the Mavs held a 76-60 lead.
“It was a tough game against a difficult team,” Carlilse said. “They have a lot of skilled guys that can do amazing things. Our guys did a great job of executing the defensive game plan, which was not an easy game plan because we were chasing around guys who are great players 30 to 40 feet away from the basket.”
Then Lillard, who only had 8 points in the first half, started to go to work, scoring 11 straight for Portland to cut the Mavs lead to 78-69, the first time the game was single digits since the first quarter. Dwight Powell hit two 3-pointers within a 25-second span to help control Lillard’s push as Dallas ended the third with an 87-73 lead.
A Lillard jumper with 4 minutes left cut Dallas’ lead to 100-93 and then a putback on his own miss made it a six-point game with a little over a minute to go. The dagger, though, came in the form of a Doncic trey with 58.9 seconds left to make it 108-99.
“It’s a shot we’ve seen him hit, a shot he works on, but great timing,” Carlisle said.
Asked what he saw on that last shot, Doncic said, “Going in, that’s what I saw.”
Lillard finished with a game-high 33 and McCollum had 18.
“This game was very similar to the last two we played,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. “Get off to a slow start, get down at haltfime, make a good comeback and fall short. I think we are all getting tired.”
The Mavs are back at it on Wednesday with a 7 p.m. tip at New Orleans before returning home for a three-game stand beginning on Dec. 8 vs. Houston (5 p.m. tip).