After stopping bleeding, Mavs must seize opportunity

Nowitzki achieves scoring milestone in win (1:07)

Dirk Nowitzki scores 18 points and becomes the sixth player in NBA history to score more than 29,000 points in the Mavericks' 129-103 win over the 76ers. Rookie Jahlil Okafor scored a career-high 31 points in a losing effort for Philadelphia. (1:07)

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks didn’t mess up this gift from the NBA schedule-maker.

Man, did the Mavs need a visit from the Philadelphia 76ers after dropping five of their previous six games. It wasn’t ideal that Dallas let its eight-win visitors build a nine-point lead in the first half, but all that mattered was that the Mavs' starters spent most of the fourth quarter resting comfortably, watching reserves put the finishing touches on the team’s largest margin of victory this season.

“Stopped the bleeding,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Sunday’s 129-103 blowout at the American Airlines Center.

This better be the start of a strong stretch for the Mavs if they plan to make a run for the fifth seed in the Western Conference standings or perhaps even hold on to a playoff spot. The Mavs must take advantage of their most favorable scheduling stretch of the season, with nine of 10 games at home and only one back-to-back in that span.

“This should be our time to turn things around,” center Zaza Pachulia said.

The Memphis Grizzlies still have a three-game cushion over the Mavs, but the door to the fifth spot is wide open with the Grizzlies down three key players after losing center Marc Gasol to a broken foot and dealing swingman Courtney Lee and forward Jeff Green before the trade deadline.

It’s much tighter below the Mavs in the standings. The Mavs are only one game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers and 1.5 games ahead of the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz.

In other words, the Mavs could be a bad week away from falling out of the playoff picture. Of course, they prefer a much more positive outlook, particularly now that they can put their suitcases away for a while.

This home-heavy stretch isn’t exactly loaded with high-quality competition, either. The Mavs’ next game is against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers are the only other .500-plus teams Dallas will face during the 10-game stretch. The lone road trip is to Denver to meet the lottery-bound Nuggets.

Dirk Nowitzki noted the Mavs “aren’t good enough to coast,” but there’s no denying that Dallas has a prime opportunity to improve its position over the next few weeks.

“We just need to seize this opportunity,” said shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who busted out of an extended slump with 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting against the Sixers. “We just need ‘em. It doesn’t matter if we play these games in Alaska. We need ‘em. It’s too tight right now. I don’t feel that we’re a team that deserves to be in the situation that we’re in, but we put ourselves there, so we’ve got to get ourselves out of it. And we got the best opportunity to do it.”