By Mike Fisher, 105.3 The Fan / CBSDFW.COM

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With 30 games to play, the Mavs started the night 4.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed in the Western Conference (only three back in the loss column), a precarious position that could’ve turn a loss to this Magic team into a potential season-ender, and to extinguish any slim playoff hopes fighting to hang on.

Thanks to 42 first-quarter points, the most for Dallas in any quarter this season, and a 17-0 surge in the fourth on the backs of Vince Carter, Brandan Wright and Shawn Marion, the Mavs pulled away for a 111-96 victory.

Unfortunately, they would gain no ground on the Rockets in the standings after a huge game from James Harden (a career-high 46 points on 14-of-19 field goals) keying a late win over the Thunder.

Prior to the game, the talk was focused on the Mavs inability to start off games well, as Rick Carlisle noted the Mavs are “the worst team in the league in the first six minutes of the game.”

For proof, we turn to the numbers: Dallas entered the night at minus-110 in the first six minutes of first quarters this season … at a distant second was Portland at minus-80.

The Mavs would respond, jumping to a 9-2 lead on their way to that season-high, for any quarter this season, of 42, and a 12-point lead, despite the fact that the Magic hit 60-percent of their shots for the quarter. Each Dallas starter had at least four points, and the elusive fast start was captured.

Over the next two quarters, what was gained from the hot start was given away. A lead that had widened to 16 was flipped into a six-point deficit in the third before OJ Mayo set the world aflame.

It began innocuously enough, as Jameer Nelson outpaced Mayo’s lackadaisical effort to chase down a loose ball created by a great hustle play from Shawn Marion … then, in an instant, Mayo, and the Mavs, seemed to remember where they were … and the urgency of the moment.

Mayo (13 points, 5-of-11 field goals, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 0 turnovers) raced to the rim, erased a JJ Redick layup attempt, chased down the ball, curled up the court and poured a sky-high alley-oop pass in Vince Carter’s general direction. Carter soared above the rim and slammed the ball home with both hands.

The crowd exploded … the momentum shifted.

A pair of Carter three’s and two free throws from Collison later, the Mavs had erased the deficit with a 10-3 run to end the third quarter up one, sparked by Mayo’s block and subsequent alley-oop. They would not look back in the fourth period.

“It’s as good a hustle sequence as we’ve had all year,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I thought the timing of it couldn’t have been more key in the game. We were down six at the time and it was going to be eight. Instead, we go down and get a lob dunk, get another stop and then hit a three. That’s a huge swing; that’s a seven-point swing within seconds. If that doesn’t happen, we may be whistling a different tune right now.”

Elton Brand led the way early, scoring nine of his 17 points in the first. Shawn Marion continued his strong stretch of play with 17 points and eight rebounds. Wright scored all of his eight points in the quarter. Carter finished with 14 points and a season-high eight assists (tying his high as a member of the Mavs). Mike James scored a season-high 12 points and good all of the meaningful backup point guard minutes. And, Darren Collison was again solid, even if his shot was off (3-of-10 shooting), with nine points, nine assists, two steals and three turnovers.

Contributions from so many hid an off-shooting night from Dirk, 4-of-13 for 12 points, though he did tie a season high with nine rebounds.

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