Behind a total team effort, the Mavericks brought an end to their six-game losing streak and knocked off the two-time defending champion Lakers at the American Airlines Center. Earl K. Sneed recaps the action.
DALLAS — The Mavericks were well aware of the scenario coming into Wednesday night: Win against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and avoid the franchise’s first seven-game losing streak since Feb. 9-19, 1999. Lose, and the streak would further send the team downward in the Western Conference standings.
Trying to end their first six-game losing streak since a stretch of games from February to March of 2000, the Mavericks welcomed Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (31-13) to the American Airlines Center for a nationally-televised showdown. The Mavericks also took the court for the late tipoff knowing that they were in desperate need of a victory before journeying back out on the road for the second game of a back-to-back Thursday night in Chicago.
And despite his team’s winless stretch, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle didn’t shy away from referring to the much-anticipated matchup as a measuring stick.
“We’ve not been playing a good brand of basketball, period,” Carlisle said before the game. “So, we’ve got to bring our level up if we want to beat anybody. That’s the truth … This is the ultimate challenge. They’re the two-time champions, and they’re playing well. So, we’ll find out where things are at.”
The Mavericks (27-14) found out that they can compete with anyone on any given night, snapping their losing streak with a 109-100 home victory and doing so with leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki having a quiet night by his standards.
“I think no matter who our opponent was tonight we needed a win and we got it,” point guard Jason Kidd said after the win. “Kobe is one of, if not the best, player in the league, and you’ve got the two-time defending champs. So, if you can’t come and be ready to play tonight, especially in the desperation mode that we are in, then you’ve got to leave it all on the floor tonight.”
“It doesn’t erase the losing streak, but what it does is give you confidence,” center Tyson Chandler added. “This is a team that we know we’re gonna have to face if we want to accomplish the things that we hope to accomplish down the line. So, I think every time that we face them it’s gonna be a statement game.”
Before the game even start, however, Carlisle had a trick up his sleeve, inserting forward Sasha Pavlovic and reinserting swingman DeShawn Stevenson into the starting five next to Kidd, Nowitzki and Chandler, who personally returned from a two-game absence with an illness.
Jason Terry headed back to the bench to reassume his sixth man duties after starting in Detroit on Monday, as did forward Shawn Marion.
“I felt that we played our best as a team when those two guys [Terry and Marion] were in that role. And really, we don’t have a sixth man, we have two sixth men. They complement each other. And also I just had a feeling that Pavlovic could really give us something as a starter,” Carlisle said of the lineup change.
Still, after sticking with the Lakers for most of the opening quarter, the Mavericks couldn’t stop L.A. from pulling away towards the close of the period, as Bryant’s mid-range game, Derek Fisher’s outside shooting and Andrew Bynum’s inside play pushed the home team to a 31-23 deficit after one.
But the Mavericks staged a comeback early in the second quarter behind Terry and backup point guard J.J. Barea, who returned to the team just before the tipoff after attending the funeral of a relative in Puerto Rico earlier in the day. Meanwhile, with Chandler once again sidelined due to his ailments, the Mavericks lacked his athletic presence inside. So, they turned to the long ball, raining in eight of nine 3-point attempts during a stretch after starting the night 0-for-7 from behind the arc.
And with perimeter success, the Mavericks shot themselves back into the game, using a Terry and Kidd-led 13-2 spurt to take a one-point lead, 50-49. The Lakers battle right back, though, escaping with a 56-52 edge heading into the halftime break.
Terry’s 15 first-half points on 6-of-8 shooting and 3-for-4 from deep led the Mavs through two quarters. But the Lakers countered with Pau Gasol’s 17 points at the other end, as L.A.’s 56 percent shooting bettered Dallas’ 53 percent.
Then, after heading to the locker room in the first half noticeably weaken by the effects of the illness, not only did Chandler return to the court after previously being ruled questionable, but the 7-foot-1 big man also kick-started the third quarter with a thunderous two-handed slam.
“I knew tonight was a big game for us, that’s why I was disappointed when I started getting sick and had to come back in the locker room,” Chandler said. “But coming back in the second half, I just wanted to give my team all the energy I could.”
“We weren’t certain that he was even gonna be able to go anymore,” Carlisle said of Chandler’s bout with the sickness. “But he gave us an emotional and spiritual lift, and then his play was great.”
Meanwhile, as Nowitzki’s rare off night continued, Kidd took control of the scoring responsibilities, raining in long-range bombs as he broke out of a shooting slump.
“The game of basketball can be cruel sometimes and also fun,” Kidd joked. “And so for me personally, I’ve had some great looks this season and I just haven’t been making them. But I’ve got great teammates and a coaching staff that keeps encouraging me to take the shots when I’m open. And they finally started falling for me tonight.”
“J-Kidd was aggressive, he was gonna be aggressive. And the thing you love about his game is that the first couple of shots didn’t go down, but he just stayed with it,” Carlisle said with respect for Kidd’s night. “He just kept after it, and right now that’s got to be who we are. It’s just one of those times when persistence has got to carry the day. And the persistence is what got it done for us today.”
The future Hall of Fame lead guard sparked a 28-9 spurt, lifting his team to an advantage as large as 11 before taking an 82-73 lead into the fourth quarter.
With the Mavericks scoring 30 in the third, the Lakers’ 17-point scoring output tied the Mavericks’ season-low by an opponent in the third quarter this season.
“We’ve been struggling in the third quarter the last two weeks. And that was probably the first time we weren’t down double figures going to the fourth … But the big thing is that we didn’t turn the ball over, we got good looks, make or miss, and our defense put us in position to win,” Kidd explained.
“In the first half, we were going back and forth and it seemed like they couldn’t miss,” Marion added. “And then in that third quarter we were able to turn it up a notch. They were missing, and we were able to get out and do what we do.”
The fourth quarter was more of the same, as Terry and Barea answered scores by Bryant while the Dallas lead swelled to as large as 16. L.A. didn’t go away quietly, however, as Bryant and Lamar Odom picked up their squad to keep the Mavericks from running away late.
But the game was all but over.
With the Lakers threatening to come back, the Dallas defense stepped up to the occasion. And after a defensive stop, Nowitzki put the game away with a driving score plus the foul to make it a 13-point game with 3:14 left. Marion then finished off the night in style, as Kidd took a defensive rebound and found No. 0 for a breakaway dunk with 1:44 left that sent the fans out of their seats.
“The crowd was great, they’ve been great all season," Kidd said. “Sometimes we haven’t given them a lot to cheer about, but tonight was an example of us having the best fans in the league in the sense of sticking with us and helping us get a win tonight.”
Carlisle cleared his bench and took out his starters a short time later.
Off the bench, both Terry and Marion poured in 22 points apiece. And with Nowitzki shooting just 5-for-15 to claim his 14 points on the night, Kidd picked up the slack en route to a season-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 5-of-8 from 3-point land. Kidd also dished out 10 assists.
“Collectively, we came out as a team and were really determined to get this one. We needed it, and our fans lifted us up coming off a tough road trip,” Terry said. “I mean, I’ve been around this team for seven years and we hadn’t went through a stretch like we did. But it’s definitely gonna define us. It’s gonna make us a tougher team mentality. And I think we’re ready to elevate our game now.”
“It felt good to get a W,” Marion echoed. “We needed this one.”
Pavlovic also scored 11 points on 5-of-7 from the floor in his first start. The Mavericks are expected to sign the seven-year vet to his second 10-day contract on Thursday.
“I was just getting out there and playing as hard as I could,” Pavlovic simply said of his personal night.
Meanwhile, Gasol finished with a game-high 23 points, while Bryant added 21 and Odom pitched in 20. And although the Mavericks just slightly outshot the Lakers on the night, producing a season-high with 55 percent shooting compared to L.A.'s 54 percent, Dallas’ 12-of-26 shooting from behind the arc proved to be the difference.
Now, the Mavericks are faced with the challenge of doing it again, heading to Chicago for a battle with Derrick Rose and the Central Division-leading Bulls (28-14) less than 24 hours after the emotional win at home.
And Carlisle admits that his personal challenge is no longer to get his team out of its skid, but now to turn the squad's losing streak into a stretch of consecutive wins.
“Now, we did it once. Let’s do it twice in a row,” Carlisle said while looking ahead. “And then let’s do it again, because doing it from time to time isn’t gonna solve things, and our guys know that.”
Note: The Mavericks head into the United Center looking to avenge an 88-83 home loss to the Bulls on Nov. 19. The Mavericks-Bulls matchup will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing nationally on TNT.
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