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Peja's 3s a welcome sight for Mavs

3/21/2011

DALLAS -- Peja Stojakovic gave the Dallas Mavericks a few "what if" moments Sunday night in his return from a six-game absence because of a stiff neck.

As in, what if he had been able to play in the 96-91 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers? And what if he had been on the floor to knock down five 3-pointers as he did Sunday against the Golden State Warriors when the Mavs were firing blanks from long range Friday night in the 97-91 loss to the San Antonio Spurs?

"If you look at that Spurs game, we went five minutes without scoring," Mavs guard Jason Terry said. "Peja plays five minutes and puts in 11 points. So, that tells you right there when a guy can get hot like that, and it could be any one of us, but you've got to have that out on the floor. You can't have that in the locker room in a suit or on the training table."

Stojakovic played 19 minutes off the bench and he scored 17 points, dropping 5-of-8 from 3-point range and 6-of-11 overall.

He hit three in a row from beyond the arc to open the second quarter to give the Mavs a 40-23 lead. The Warriors would make several rallies and get as close as 60-56 and 69-63, but Stojakovic stopped that rally with his fourth 3-pointer to put the Mavs up nine with 3:05 to go in the third quarter.

The five 3s were a season-high for Stojakovic in his 22nd game of the season and 14th with the Mavericks. With New Orleans and then Toronto, a bothersome knee dogged him and limited him to eight games, keeping him sidelined since Nov. 26. He made his Mavs debut on Feb. 7.

Before his neck and back flared up after a short practice on March 7, the 3-point specialist was in a funk from downtown, hitting 3-of-19 in his previous six games, and he was converting just 30.8 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in his 13 games with the Mavs. He missed the 93-92 loss to the Hornets, the first of four losses in the six games that Stojakovic missed.

"It was frustrating for me; just getting back from the knee thing and having the setback with the neck and back injury, it wasn't fun at all," Stojakovic said. "I was so happy being back with the team, going through the things you usually do, practices, games, shootarounds. I had to stay away for a few games to get right."

How right Stojakovic felt Sunday night could still be an issue. He returned to the active roster just as Shawn Marion was forced out with a sprained right wrist. Stojakovic wasn't quite ready to declare himself 100 percent healthy.

"I felt good enough to play," Stojakovic said. "I was a little worried about trying to avoid hits, but it felt good."

It looked good to the Mavs, who were a combined 11-of-36 (30.6 percent) from beyond the arc in the losses to the Lakers and Spurs.

Stojakovic had started the previous 13 games with the Mavs and he could return to that spot when Dallas returns to action Thursday. Marion said he'll be ready to play in that one and Dallas would finally field a full team with 12 games left in the regular season.

"It helps our spacing; it gives us another major threat in transition and spotting up," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of having Stojakovic in the rotation. "He’s a terrific player off movement. And defensively, he holds his own. He does better than a lot of people give credit for because he’s experienced, he’s tall and has length, and he knows how to play angles."

Most importantly, his proclivity to drain 3-pointers can change the momentum of a game on a dime.

"As a shooter I think you always shoot," Stojakovic said. "You never lose confidence; you do what you're supposed to do. That's something I've done throughout my career. Just some nights shots aren't going in. I just have to keep being aggressive, keep being a threat out there and keep defenses honoring me on the court."