In the NBA, who you play isn't always as important as when you play them. The Mavs took advantage of a wounded animal on Sunday, beating the Pacers 105-94 and giving them their fourth consecutive loss, their longest losing streak of the season. Indiana, tied for the best record in the NBA, is 6-6 in their last 12 games, including two losses to Dallas.
The story of the game was the Mavs bench, who outscored the Pacers reserves 41-4. Indiana's second unit was never able to get into rhythm, as they are still clearly struggling to integrate Evan Turner into their rotation. Their formula of getting points going defense to offense doesn't work well when the backup guards are getting treated like turnstiles.
Devin Harris had one of his best games of the season, with 20 points, 5 assists and 4 steals in 23 minutes. His ability to push the pace and get points in transition was huge against an Indiana team with one of the best half-court defenses in the NBA. If he keeps going 4-6 from three, Rick Carlisle will have a hard time keeping him on the bench.
The combination of Harris and Monta Ellis overwhelmed the slower Pacers big men on the pick-and-roll, as the two guards were able to take turns driving-and-kicking for open shots. And while their lack of size was an issue against Paul George and Lance Stephenson, on the whole, the Dallas perimeter players outplayed their Indiana counterparts.
Vince Carter had another strong showing, with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, including one offensive rebound where he jumped 3-4 times in a row to outfight a couple (much younger) Pacers players. Turner, who was supposed to be boxing out Vince on that play, finished with 2 points, 3 assists and 4 fouls in 25 minutes.
Perhaps the most encouraging development of the night was the way the Mavs held the gigantic duo of Roy Hibbert and David West in check. Dallas was +1 in the rebound category, fairly stunning when you consider how often they used an all 6'7-and-under line-up against one of the biggest teams in the NBA.
With a tough three-game road trip against Golden State, Utah and Oklahoma City on deck, tonight's game was a must-win for a team that is tied with Phoenix for the No. 8 seed and only 1/2 game up ahead of Memphis. Even at 12 games over .500, the playoffs are still far from assured.
The Mavs can't control how the Suns and the Grizzlies play, but if they can string together more efforts like tonight, where they held their own on the boards, won the turnover battle and the bench scoring category in a rout, they will at least put themselves in position to stay in the race until the final days of the season..
While Indiana has the margin for error to deal with a down-spell, Dallas is living on a razor-thin edge out West. For at least one more night, they are still in the Top 8.