The Dallas Mavericks may have 17 more wins than the Indiana Pacers, but both teams are in somewhat similar situations when it comes to the playoff races in their respective conferences.
Dallas looks for its fourth consecutive victory over a team from the weak Eastern Conference when it hosts Indiana on Friday night.
The Mavs (42-23) have posted three consecutive blowout victories, beating New Jersey, New York and Charlotte by an average of 24.6 points. Dallas, though, hasn't been able to move up in the West standings, where the top nine teams are separated by just seven games.
The Pacers (25-39), meanwhile, are amazingly just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the East, where the top nine teams are separated by 25 1/2 games.
On Wednesday, Josh Howard had one of his best games for the Mavs since bruising his back last month, scoring 24 points as Dallas snapped the Bobcats' franchise-record five-game winning streak.
"Josh looks great again," said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 26 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes. "He's getting to the basket, making shots and passing the ball. If he plays like that, we're going to be tough to beat."
Howard, averaging career highs of 19.5 points and 7.2 rebounds, missed two games after falling hard to the floor against Philadelphia on Feb. 11.
"I'm just playing basketball," Howard insisted. "Limited or not, I'm just trying to help the team win."
Following this game, Dallas visits NBA-worst Miami before consecutive home games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston, the current conference leaders.
"We're just out there having fun," Mavs center Erick Dampier told the team's official Web site. "It's amazing when we're out there having fun the things that we can do as a team. We just have got to go out there each and every night with a consistent effort and do the things that we work on in practice. When we're moving the ball, running up and down the floor and having fun, we can play with anyone in this league."
Indiana had some fun on Tuesday night, beating Seattle 114-107 and snapping a three-game skid behind another solid performance from Mike Dunleavy.
The six-year veteran twice left the game because of injuries (ankle, nose) and returned both times, finishing with 32 points. Dunleavy, averaging a career-best 18.2 points, has scored 30 or more in four of his past 10 games - tying his career high of 36 twice over that span.
"I only surprise myself when I don't do well," he said. "I know what I'm capable of, and I feel like I've gotten an opportunity to shine here. I'm just going to keep it going and help this team in every possible way to get in the postseason."
Indiana ended a four-game losing streak to the Mavs with a 111-107 win at home on Nov. 23. The Pacers, though, have won just once in their last eight visits to Dallas.
Dunleavy, who spent the first 4 1/2 seasons of his career in the West with Golden State, is averaging just 11.5 points and shooting 42.1 percent from the field in 17 games against Dallas.
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