At this stage of the season and with the way things have gone for them lately, the Dallas Mavericks will take a win any way they can get it.
And Wednesday night, the Mavs had a very difficult time getting a win against a team headed to the NBA Draft Lottery.
But just when it seemed as though the game were slipping away, the Mavs stepped on the gas and got out of American Airlines Center with a 91-89 triumph over the New York Knicks.
The win pulled the Mavs even with the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz for the seventh and eighth Western Conference playoff spots at 37-38. The Rockets currently own the tie-breaker with the Mavericks because they have a 2-1 edge over Dallas in the season series.
Utah lost to Golden State 103-96 in overtime.
The Knicks (30-46) had a chance to win after Raymond Felton split a pair of free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining. But Langston Galloway’s 3-pointer at the buzzer missed its mark.
J.J. Barea starred and shined brightly for the Mavs, finishing with 26 points, five rebounds and seven assists. And the Mavs needed every bit of Barea’s production, since Dirk Nowitzki struggled and wound up with 11 points on 5-of-23 shooting.
“He’s always aggressive and he has an approach that’s consistent, so he gives himself a chance to be successful out there,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Barea. “I think the other reason that he’s having significant success in these last two games is his defensive intensity is up a notch.
“He’s picking guys up at half court, he’s being an agitator on defense and making it difficult for the opponent. When he has the impact at both ends, it enhances his game and it enhances our game.”
The Knicks led 82-76 with under six minutes left. But the Mavs went to work and went ahead 88-86 when rookie Justin Anderson scored inside off a feed from Wesley Matthews.
Carmelo Anthony’s 3-point play put the Knicks ahead 89-88. But Barea motored inside and scored to put the Mavs up 90-89 with 49.9 seconds left.
Dwight Powell and Anderson were in the Mavs’ starting lineup for the second straight game, and Dallas is 2-0 with them in the same starting lineup.
Anderson finished with seven points, nine rebounds and two steals, and Powell collected two points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.
“It’s very much a fluid situation,” Carlisle said. “We’re absorbing some uncharacteristic poor shooting nights and still finding a way to win, and I view those things as positive, so we’ve got to keep moving forward.”
The Knicks led 12-2 and by as much as 11 points in the second period. But the Mavs led 51-48 when Nowitzki hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Matthews scored 16 points for the Mavs and played excellent defense on Anthony down the stretch. And now the Mavs start a two-game road trip Friday in Detroit.
“We’ve got a group of guys that are committed,” Carlisle said, “and going at it hard and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”