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Mavs persevere, but kinks persist

SALT LAKE CITY -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called Saturday's 94-77 win against a depleted Utah Jazz team that led 70-68 with 6:21 to play a "great game."

In this case, great is relative.

"I felt like we were watching the NCAA tournament. At the end of the third quarter, it was 60-58," forward Shawn Marion said. "I was like, 'Whoa.' But, at least we hit 90."

But even Marion went on to say that it was a great win and a great way to start a six-game road trip that continues Sunday night at the Phoenix Suns.

"I thought we looked good. Besides the turnovers, we did good," Marion said. "It was a halfcourt game. It was a grind. It was a possession game throughout the whole time until we got that last six-minute stretch and we just opened it up. We did what we had to do to get the win."

The Mavs finally looked like a team serious about starting the playoffs in three weeks with a whirlwind final 6:21. It took shape with a lineup that may not have played together all season, and might never hit the floor together in a playoff game. Yet the three-guard lineup of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, plus Marion and Tyson Chandler, finally fuel-injected the Mavs, who weren't thrilled by being pushed at home by the Minnesota Timberwolves just two nights earlier.

Playoff ready? Well, Carlisle and the Mavs, who are 6-5 in their last 11 games with three straight wins over lottery-bound teams, touted Saturday's game as a playoff-type slog -- physical, grinding and tight -- that they can carry forward.

"This is what we need," Carlisle said. "I mean this is a playoff-style game and very emotional. It's all about hanging in there."

If the 26-7 finishing kick is what Carlisle had in mind when he preached the importance of persistence heading into this season-long road trip, then chalk this one up as a momentous step forward. And maybe it will be a springboard to better basketball for a team trying to re-discover its edge and identity as the playoffs creep closer.

But it certainly wasn't pretty. There were 19 more turnovers -- five in the first half on offensive fouls -- that Utah only managed to turn into 12 points. The good news is only seven came in the second half when the Mavs played better defense, held the Jazz to 30 points and 30.8 percent shooting.

The pessimist will point out that the Jazz started a lineup of Earl Watson, Raja Bell, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Devin Harris and Andrei Kirilenko were out with injuries as Utah fell for a fifth consecutive time and dropped their 17th home game at what was once one of the most intimidating venues in the NBA.

The Mavs again could not seize a lead and continually fell behind against an undermanned opponent, and managed just 15 points in a brutal third quarter in which the Jazz scored only 13. Both teams combined for 10 field goals and nine turnovers.

The optimist will point out that the Mavs (51-21) found a way to win when they didn't have it going offensively much of the night. Dallas won for only the 12th time this season when scoring less than 100 points (12-27). The Mavs hadn't held a single opponent under 80 points all season and now have done it twice in the last three games (holding Golden State to 73 points a week ago). And, it is the first time in franchise history to sweep a four-game season series from the Jazz. Energy Solutions Arena has been a house of horrors in the past.

"Tonight the level of intensity was like the playoffs, but as far us just getting out and getting a good lead on them, it wasn't happening for us, so that was kind of frustrating," said Jason Terry, who had a game-high 22 points on just seven shots. "But, there in the fourth quarter we locked in on both ends of the floor and did what we had to do to get the win."

Against better teams it might have been too late to salvage. For now, the Mavs have a game at Phoenix, an off-day Monday and a practice Tuesday in the desert, then a game at the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday to straighten out issues before another huge test against Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. Again, that game could ultimately give the Lakers the No. 2 seed, or put Dallas on the brink of taking it back.

But before then, the fact of the matter is Dallas is finally fully healthy and just now working in another new lineup with Marion starting and Peja Stojakovic coming off the bench. Rodrigue Beaubois continues to try to find a comfort level and Carlisle is searching for stability with the rotation and roles.

That was blown out of the water early because of foul trouble to multiple players.

"We've got 10 games left and we've got to work through that," Kidd said. "But, we're a veteran ballclub and we understand that, again, we put ourselves in that position [against the Jazz] by turning the ball over. But, once we took care of the ball and got shots, we started to push forward and got a little breathing room."

The only problem is it took 41 1/2 minutes to do it.