ORLANDO, Fla. (CBSDFW.COM) – “We are digging out of a hole,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, a truth as Dallas entered Sunday, and the second half of the NBA schedule, with a 17-24 record. But the Mavs exited Orlando with a 111-105 victory, a win that suggests that while this team remains flawed, it is at least armed with a shovel and a pickax.
A few days ago, the Mavericks were 10 games below .500 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. The outlook was dismal enough to fuel speculation as to whether it might be advantageous for the team to “tank” — to play not to win, but to find away to increase its lottery position in this summer’s NBA Draft.
That’s an easy approach for fans and media to take … but a difficult one to spring on the actual partipants, who see themselves as a team that is 1-8 this season in OT games (meaning they’re close!), a team that in all 10 January games leading up to Sunday owned a lead in the fourth quarter but won just half of those games (meaning they just need to close!)
And now, after a fifth win in six outings?
“It’s been tough the first 41 (games),” said Carlisle, breaking his usual one-game-at-a-time mantra. “We’re three back, we’re in the hunt for the playoffs. That’s going to be our motivation.”
This game did not follow the blueprint — except for the fact that it marks Dallas’ seventh straight win at Orlando. Shawn Marion was required to be a scorer; he had 20 points. Elton Brand’s hot streak continued with his 14 points. O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter scored 15 apiece and Dirk Nowitzki did a little bit of everything (12 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and critical late free throws) to seal the deal.
And maybe most importantly, Darren Collison was allowed to be a finisher; the starting point guard remained in the game late and hit a key 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining.
“That was the biggest play in the game,” Carlisle said.
In this seesaw affair, the Mavericks trailed at the start of the game by 14 and led in the fourth quarter by 13. That’s notable because this is a team that this year has struggled to finish. Dallas is 1-8 in OT games and has led in the fourth quarter in all 11 January games but is just 6-5 in those games.
Glen Davis led Orlando (14-26) with 24 points. Jameer Nelson had 20 and J. J. Reddick — who Dallas too frequently lost while on defense — scored 18. It was a late Reddick 3 that kept Orlando alive, and then Nelson snuck behind Carter to force a jumpball to keep it close.
Oddly, Carter — who towers over Nelson — was not really contested on the jump but nevertheless tipped it backwards, towards the Orlando end of the floor.
Fortunately it was Nowitzki on the receiving end. He was fouled and made the two free throws to ice it.
The Mavericks now have a four-day break from game action before hosting division-leader San Antonio on Friday. The team is taking Monday off.
“It’s going to be good,” Marion said, “to sit on this win for four days.”
And then it’ll be back to digging out of that hole, back to swinging those shovels and those pickaxes.
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