The Mavericks made their mini-road trip a success by beating the Atlanta Hawks.
It just got better after the Mavs boarded the team jet to return to Dallas. The Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, the two teams directly ahead of the 10th-place Mavs in the West standings, both lost late games.
Here come the Mavs, three games out of the last playoff spot entering a six-game homestand. Per the Hollinger playoff odds, the Mavs have a 14.5 percent chance of extending their postseason streak to 13 years.
Not that Dirk Nowitzki wants to get bogged down with details, numbers and scenarios. At this point, the face of the Mavs’ franchise prefers to keep things very simple.
“We’re going to fight at the end,” Nowitzki told reporters. “We’ll see where that brings us at the end. I think we want to fight for every night and not look at the big picture. We want to win the next game, and that’s what we need to focus on and really leave it all out there.”
Since the season’s low point, when the Mavs dropped to 10 games under .500 for the first time since right after Mark Cuban bought the team in 2000, Dallas has performed like a playoff team. The Mavs are 19-12 in their last 31 games, a .613 winning percentage, a.k.a. a 50-win pace.
That still hasn’t been enough for the Mavs to dig out of the huge hole they dug themselves – or even shave – but they’ve given themselves hope with 15 games remaining.
“The second part of the season, we’re just a different team,” Vince Carter told reporters. “Guys are just learning. That’s just the way it is. I think we’ve stayed the course and been relentless.”
Added Darren Collison: "We still believe. We still believe we can make it. There's no quit in us. We believe that every game from here out we can get a win. We're talented enough. We've got the players to do it."
A few more notes from the Mavs’ highest-scoring game of the season:
1. Defense rests: Coach Rick Carlisle described the Mavs’ 127-113 win in Atlanta as a “defensive pillow fight.”
Needless to say, he wasn’t ecstatic with allowing the Hawks to shoot 56 percent from the floor, although Carlisle acknowledged that he’d take the win and run.
Carlisle’s point was that the Mavs would have to play better defense for this six-game homestand, which starts Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets and features nothing but plus-.500 foes, to be a happy one. Nowitzki hammered that point home in the locker room.
“I don’t think we’re happy with our defensive outing, but offensively that’s just about as good as we’ve played all year,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got a big homestand coming up. We’ve got to be better defensively than that.”
2. Collison on point: Darren Collison lit up the Hawks for 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, his second-highest scoring game of the season. It was the first time Collison scored at least 20 points since Jan. 14.
Collison took over the game in the second quarter, scoring 15 points in the frame on an array of jumpers, drives to the basket and cuts for layups.
"I was able to get it going," Collison told reporters. "A lot of players in this league, once they get it going, that basket looks bigger and bigger, and that's what happened in the second quarter."
3. Making use of Morrow: Anthony Morrow made by far his biggest impact for the Mavericks in his return to Atlanta, the team that traded him to Dallas at the deadline.
Morrow played 13 minutes – more than twice his total playing time for the Mavs entering the night – and had eight points and three assists. That included some meaningful minutes in the first half. Morrow, known for his long-range marksmanship, has still yet to hit a 3-pointer for the Mavs. He didn’t attempt one against the Hawks, but he was 3-for-4 from the floor and moved the ball crisply and efficiently when the Hawks closed out on him in 3-point territory.
“We dusted off Anthony Morrow,” Nowitzki joked.