- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS – Maybe the Mavericks will get rid of those bushy beards before they hit the beach.
As has been well chronicled, several Mavs made a pact a couple of months ago that they wouldn’t shave until they get back to .500. (We assume all bets are off once the season is over.) They’ve at least reached the point where grabbing a razor appears to be realistic.
With eight wins in their last 11 games, the Mavs (34-36) are within two games of .500 for the first time this calendar year. The last time they were this close to breaking even was when Dallas had a 12-14 record in late December.
The Mavs’ playoff hopes have also been boosted from puny to possible. They’re only two games behind the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers with an April 2 date at the Staples Center looming.
But first thing’s first.
"Making the playoffs is most important,” Elton Brand said, “but shaving is essential."
But the Mavs, who are 21-13 since being a dozen-year-low of 10 games under .500, consider themselves a playoff team despite what the standings say. They’ve got a dozen games left to prove themselves right.
“We’ve got to keep pushing forward,” Mike James said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good situation. It’s been tough, the hole that we had to dig ourselves out of, but we’re still fighting to get out of it. We’ve got to get our nails dirty. We’ve got to continue to get our nails dirty and dig ourselves completely out of this hole that we put ourselves in at the beginning of the season.
“We’re playing probably the best basketball that we’ve played all season now, and this is the right time to be peaking.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ closer-than-it-shoulda-been win:
1. Recharged Brand: Friday night wasn’t the first time Elton Brand had been a DNP-CD during his decorated NBA career. The rest were just when his coach opted to rest him before the playoffs.
In this case, coach Rick Carlisle thought Brand could benefit from a game off, especially against the small-ball Celtics. Brand’s performance in Sunday’s win proved Carlisle right.
“I always want to make my boss look smart,” Brand said, half-kidding after he had 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes. “It worked. I definitely felt fresher. Even had a dunk.”
Forget the dunk. Let’s discuss Brand’s defense.
After the first quarter, it looked like Al Jefferson would feast on the Mavs. Utah’s beefy big man had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter but finished the game with only 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
Credit Brand for cooling off Jefferson, who had only three points on 1-of-4 shooting in the 11 minutes he was defended by the 6-foot-9, 255-pound 14-year veteran. Jefferson has 10 points on 4-of-18 shooting in 41 minutes against Brand this season.
“Against the big bruisers – and they’re coming in, it’s gonna be a murderer’s row of them the next three games – we need to have Elton fresh,” Carlisle said. “He did a great job tonight.”
2. 86 seconds of stink: The Mavs almost managed to screw up 46-plus good minutes with a miserable finish.
The Jazz scored 16 points in the final 1:26 of what should have been garbage time to make it a one-possession game with 7.3 seconds remaining. The Mavs survived after Darren Collison iced the win with a couple of free throws, but their coach wasn’t exactly thrilled.
“My team’s execution in the last minute and a half? I’m in favor of it,” Carlisle said, borrowing a line from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Rich McKay. “The end of the game was ugly, but we got through it. I guess I’ve been around this long enough to realize and understand that you can’t make a win feel like a loss.”
3. Dirk’s rest: The Mavs didn’t need Dirk Nowitzki to play a second in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
It’s nice to be able to limit the 34-year-old to 26 minutes in a win under any circumstances. He ought to have fresh legs when the Clippers come to town Tuesday, assuming he isn’t under the weather.
Nowitzki left the locker room before the media entered because he was feeling a bit ill, although it isn’t anything the Mavs are concerned about.
“Watching the last minute of that game made everybody sick,” one Mavs staffer cracked.