Hard-working Mavs handle business

DALLAS -- As Mark Cuban worked out on his stair-stepper and watched the wild ending of the Saints-49ers game, he made it clear he wasn’t getting too giddy about the Mavericks’ winning streak.

“We haven’t come close to playing good basketball yet,” Cuban said. “We’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

Maybe Cuban changed his mind just a bit while watching the Mavs roll to a 99-60 rout of the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night to extend their winning streak to five games.

Dallas, which just swept four games in five nights, isn’t just winning. The Mavs are winning big, posting margins of victory of 15, 14, five, 26 and 39 points during this streak.

Granted, it’s probably not wise to get too carried away given the quality of competition. The Mavs just whipped up on a bunch of teams with losing records over the last week and change.

“We played the way we were supposed to,” sixth man Jason Terry said after scoring a game-high 21 points while the Mavs set franchise records for fewest points and lowest field-goal percentage (.256) allowed in a game.

The defending NBA champions get a great chance to prove this run hasn’t been fool’s gold during a four-game road trip that begins with a stop in L.A. to play a pair of Western Conference contenders, the Lakers and Clippers.

"If we compete and play with energy on both ends of the floor," Nowitzki said, "I like our chances against anybody."

The Mavs clearly weren’t prepared to face quality competition when the season started on Christmas. They were embarrassed by being blown out at home by the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets, but this is a totally different team just a few weeks later.

The “old, slow and out of shape” Mavs, as superstar Dirk Nowitzki labeled them after a couple of games, have at least gotten in shape. This cast will never be young or quick, but they’re back to playing the kind of defense that keyed last season’s title run.

Dallas hasn’t allowed an opponent to score 100 points in the last 10 games. The Mavs are 8-2 in that stretch and haven’t allowed a 90-point outing in any of their victories.

If the Mavs keep locking it down like that, the offense will flow just fine in time.

“Defensively is where it’s at,” Nowitzki said after a ho-hum offensive performance, scoring 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting. “Over the last couple of games, we really established that first. That’s where we were at our best last year, when we got stops and didn’t get stagnant offensively.”

Cuban made the point before the game that all of the Mavs’ veterans will have what appear to be down seasons because the plan is for them all to play fewer minutes with the condensed schedule. The Mavs routinely have at least 10 or 11 men play significant minutes each game.

The bench often outscores the starting lineup, as was the case Saturday night, when the second unit led by Terry and Vince Carter (16 points, 6-8 FG) had 68 points to also outscore all of the Kings. The Mavs are buying into Carlisle’s demands for maximum effort with a focus on doing the dirty work.

“The three major points we’re stressing are energy, competiveness, defense and rebounding,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “So that’s four, but actually the first two are one. Work with me on that.”

It’s working really well for the Mavs right now.