The Dallas Mavericks closed out their homestand before the All-Star Break in winning fashion, defeating the Sacremento Kings 123-100 at the American Airlines Center Wednesday night. Vince Carter led the way with 26 points, passing Larry Bird for 29th on the NBA all-time scoring list, and Dirk Nowitzki carried over his fine play from Monday against Atlanta with a stat-stuffing line of 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and a block.
After the latest disappointing defeat, against Atlanta, coach Rick Carlisle was plain and direct about what he considered to be the primary reason for the loss: the slow start that allowed the Hawks to jump out to a 13-2 lead and put the Mavs in an early hole from which they had to fight out of.
Dallas would be sure to avoid a sluggish first quarter this time around, attacking the Kings interior defense right out of the opening tip. Tyreke Evans would make the first two baskets for the visitors, but Dallas would make a 12-2 run to force an early timeout from Keith Smart. Both Dallas and Sacremento would trade baskets for much of the first period, and for Sacremento Tyreke Evans would generally have his way with O.J. Mayo, scoring 8 points in the quarter, but avoiding that initial drag was an important step for the home team and something they had clearly highlighted in their preparation.
Leading 30-27 heading into the second quarter, Sacremento would start to go cold. Dirk Nowitzki, who had problems guarding Josh Smith one on one previously, was much more effective as a team defender tonight, and his activity was notable with several intercepts in the free throw line area, and a block(actually, I believe the scorer may have credited Elton Brand with one of Dirk's blocks mistakenly, on a play where Dirk came to help and got the block from behind). At the offensive end, Dallas would reach the penalty midway through the quarter, and would take advantage by racking up 11 free throw attempts, helping to slowly build their lead into double digits.
Continuing the thought on Dirk, not only did he look as active as ever on defense, he looked like he was having fun again. Kirk Henderson linked the Zach Lowe interview on Grantland and I think it's appropriate to bring up in discussing how much better and less restricted Dirk's movements look, and how that may also be effecting his psyche(as well as that sweet jumpshot). Dirk nailed a pair of elbow area jumpers late in the second quarter, and delivered a pose both times, sort of his way of saying "yeah, this feels right again."
Dirk and Dallas separated at this point, stretching the lead to 15, and a lot of the offense was being generated by Darren Collison, who had 9 assists tonight, and has dished out 34 dimes in his last four games. Just as importantly, he's only had one game where he's committed more than two turnovers in his last 13. Admist all the trade rumor talk about upgrading at point guard, Collison is playing some of his best ball of his entire career.
Ahead 59-44 after halftime, Sacramento would try to make things interesting again in the third, and the two-headed monster of DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans would exploit the size and strength advantages on Bernard James and O.J. Mayo. Evans and Cousins would combine to score 40 points on 13-21 shooting, and going 14-16 from the line, as they were able to bull their way into drawing fouls. Mayo had picked up his third foul in the second quarter, and had to sit, which seemed to throw him out of his rhythm tonight(as did the underrated defense of Evans). They would cut the lead to nine at 71-62 midway through the quarter.
Then Vince Carter exploded.
Carter would hit a streak busting basket, and after four King points, hit a three. Then another three. And after some back and forth, Carter would hit three threes on back-to-back-to-back possessions for Dallas in the final minute of the third, giving the Jordan shrug at one point as if he simply knew he couldn't miss. Suddenly, despite what was by far the Kings best offensive quarter, the Mavs lead was back up to 15.
Dallas would provide the knockout punch to start the fourth, starting with a 13-2 run to make the lead 26 points. Dallas started the game by missing their first six three pointers(and, surprise, Vince Carter would end that run), but the long bomb would eventually be the weapon of choice for Dallas tonight, as Mike James, Jae Crowder, and Dirk would all hit threes as a part of that 13-2 run, putting the score at 105-79 against the team who is unsurprisingly last in the NBA in points allowed.
Carter, now 29th on the all-time scoring list, needs 18 points to pass Gary Payton for 28th, though he'll have to wait a bit to advance further than that. Carter would hit 6-9 three-pointers, and Dallas would make 13-34 as a team. In constrast, Sacramento would go 4-16 from distance.
As might be expected, given the score, Dallas held the advantage in most every statistical category tonight. They outrebounded the Kings 51-44, outshot them 46.7% to 41.3%, had the edge in assists 27 to 17, as well as steals, blocks and turnovers. It was the Mavs 18th straight home win against the Kings, going back to the Keon Clark game-winner back in the '02-'03 season(I was at that game!).
The Houston Rockets are currently losing by 20 at halftime to the L.A. Clippers, and if that lead holds Dallas will be just five games back, with a back-to-back matchup against Houston looming in early March. Dallas will have the week off, before taking on the Orlando Magic(who will be playing their second game in as many nights) in a week. Then they will see the Hornets, Lakers(Sunday on ABC) and Bucks.
Just because there won't be any games, don't think there's nothing to talk about here at Mavs Moneyball. Be sure to check out all our All-Star Weekend coverage(Jonathan and Lisa will be in Houston), as well as the rumor roundup as the trade deadline closes in. This is where it gets interesting!
Be sure to check out even more coverage at SB Nation Blog Sactown Royalty!