That 90-minute bus ride from Oakland to Sacramento late Wednesday night provided the Dallas Mavericks with ample time to think about their demoralizing 128-114 loss to the Stephen Curry-fueled Golden State Warriors.
But instead of sulking and letting the 51 points Curry tagged them with to linger, the Mavericks went out and did something productive.
Battling obvious fatigue, Monta Ellis poured in 21 points and added six assists and three steals and the Mavericks showed some resiliency in overpowering the Sacramento Kings 101-78 on Thursday night before 16,993 at Sleep Train Arena.
The victory helped the Mavericks split their two-game road trip and increased their record to 34-18 as they head home for a three-game homestand starting Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
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With Curry’s points still buzzing in their ears, the Mavericks held the Kings to 36.7 percent shooting and padded their road record on the second leg of a back-to-back to an impressive 7-1.
“Everybody knew it was a big game and I think everybody had to step up, especially on defense,” said J.J. Barea, who contributed 15 points and five assists. “We never like it when they beat us and somebody scores 50 points on us.
“It was a great team effort to bounce back and we’ve got to keep it going.”
The Mavericks played without Dirk Nowitzki, who sat out for the fourth time this season, so he could get some rest. They also played without point guard Rajon Rondo, who missed his third consecutive game with an orbital fracture to his left eye and a nasal fracture.
But Ellis more than picked up the slack with 11 points in the second period when the Mavericks built a 60-43 lead at the halftime and started getting some separation between themselves and the Kings.
“Our balance all around was good, really good, and it needed to be tonight without Dirk,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We had strong point guard play, we had great play at the wings, our big guys battled all night and we just had really even contributions from top to bottom.
“It’s a game we had to get because [Wednesday] night was really tough. The guys showed a lot of resilience, they were very together today in our meeting, they really wanted to bounce back the right way and they did.”
Tyson Chandler set the defensive tone for the Mavericks, finishing with 16 points and 16 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the season. Chandler’s production almost offset that of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, who collected 23 points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers for the Kings.
“This isn’t a matchup that you want, especially taking a bus from San Francisco,” Chandler said. “I wasn’t looking forward to that.
“This morning I felt [bad], driving to the arena I felt [bad], all the way up until the tipoff I felt [bad]. Mentally, I just put myself in a place, I know we needed to win, Dirk being out, I knew my teammates were going to lean on me, so I just tried to come out and provide some energy.”
Al-Farouq Aminu, who started in Nowitzki’s place, also provided some energy with two steals, three blocks and four rebounds. Meanwhile, Devin Harris manufactured the defensive play of the game at a time when no one expected it.
With the Mavericks ahead 83-60 early in the fourth period, Harris ran down Nik Stauskas – he was going into for an uncontested dunk – and blocked his shot right at the rim. The defensive play brought the entire Mavs’ bench to their feet as they roared with approval.
“It was awesome,” Barea said. “I saw him timing it up.”
In the meantime, this was also a terrific bounce-back game for Ellis, who was just 7-of-19 from the floor in the loss to the Warriors.
“He’s been doing this for two years, so it’s not a shock,” Carlisle said. “I don’t think we should just expect guys to be able to play this well on the second night of a back-to-back after a tough first night, but he’s a fighter.
“He knows how important he is to us. I thought his run at the end of the first half really gave us separation No. 1, but No. 2, it just created some doubt on their side and he picked it up right in the second half, too.”
Ellis wound up converting 9-of-16 shots, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range. He also drilled a 3-pointer with .03 second left in the first half that stunned the Kings (17-31).
“I was just taking my time, I wasn’t trying to pressure anything,” Ellis said. “We could get everything we wanted.
“I was just reading the defense. When they stepped up I was able to find the open guy, and when they went under I wanted to hit the shot and the shot was just going in.”
In addition to the 15 points the Mavs got off the bench from Harris, Richard Jefferson added 14 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes.
“I’m just trying to be a professional and when my number is called, I try and be ready to go,” Jefferson said. “We’re not in the best position.
“We’re missing Rondo, we’re missing Dirk, we’ve got Devin banged up. For us to come in here and get a short-handed victory against a talented team, it means a lot for us.”
With this win the Mavs have more wins on the road (19) than any team this season. And this one came a night after they were shell-shocked against a Warriors team they led by 22 points in the first quarter before succumbing down the stretch.
Against the Kings, however, the Mavs were able to maintain their lead in winning for the fourth time over the past five games. Five games in which the Mavs have had at least a 20-point lead in every game.
“We just felt if we were persistent enough that we could find a way without Dirk,” Carlisle said. “Their difficulties with shot-making helped.
“But I thought we did a solid job on Cousins and I thought we ran at their shooters all night and made them miss some of them.’’