If the Dallas Mavericks heard any questions about their sporadic play over the past month, their recent play has emphatically silenced any critics.
Resurgent Dallas (18-9) looks for its fifth win in a row when it hosts the struggling Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
The Mavericks lost six of nine from Nov. 23-Dec. 6 following a 9-2 start, but over the past two weeks have looked much more like the team that won an NBA-high 67 games last season.
They've shot at least 50.7 percent from the field in four of their past six wins. Dallas only shot 46.0 percent on Wednesday, en route to one of its most impressive wins this season - 108-105 over Phoenix.
"It's starting to click,'' Mavs swingman Jerry Stackhouse said. "When we knew it was time to get serious, we've gotten serious. Quite frankly, in those early games, we didn't get serious. We thought we were going to kick it in gear and we didn't.
"Since we got focused and lit a fire under guys, we've been pretty good.''
Dirk Nowitzki has stepped his game up in the Mavericks' last two wins, scoring 31 points both times while averaging 10.0 rebounds. The reigning MVP is averaging 21.6 points, three fewer than he did last season, and his shooting percentages - field goals, free throws and 3-pointers - are down across the board.
He's particularly struggled from beyond the arc, where he's shooting just 30.0 percent, the worst since his 20.6 percentage as a rookie in 1998-99. Nowitzki has averaged 19.8 points in 31 career games against the Clippers.
But even with Nowitzki not playing quite like he did last season, Josh Howard has given Dallas a second scoring option. Howard leads the Mavericks with a career-high 21.8 points and also pulls down 7.1 rebounds - second on the team behind Nowitzki's 8.4.
Things haven't been going so well for Los Angeles (9-15), which has lost 11 of its last 14 following a 6-4 start.
The Clippers score just 93.6 points per game, the second-lowest average in the Western Conference, and struggled again on Thursday in an 80-77 home loss to Toronto. Los Angeles shot 39.0 percent from the field, the eighth time this season it has been held below 40 percent. They make 42.0 percent of their shots on average - the second-worst percentage in the league.
"We struggled making some shots. We did not get a lot out of our post game tonight," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We missed some shots around the basket."
Chris Kaman was only 5-of-15 against the Raptors, but has emerged as a dominant big man in his fifth NBA season. After averaging 10.1 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, Kaman has drastically increased his scoring to 18.3 points, and his 14.0 rebounds per game are the third most in the league.
He has a double-double in all 10 December games the Clippers have played, and has 20 this season - four more than he had in all of 2006-07.
Kaman, though, has averaged only 8.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 14 career games against Dallas.
The Mavericks won both meetings in Dallas last year by an average of 21 points, and have won five of their last seven against the Clippers.
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