It’s easy to understand why the Dallas Mavericks were a bit slow out of the gates in their Friday night matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. After Tuesday night’s rollercoaster ride, in which Dirk Nowitzki became the sixth player in NBA history to surpass the 30,000-point barrier (coverage here), the players found it a bit hard to stay focused on the task at hand in the first half.
“You can chalk this up to a couple of days off,'' Harrison Barnes said, "or maybe a little hangover from the celebration the other night.''
However, that would all change in the last 24 minutes, as the Mavs outscored Brooklyn in the second half, on their way to a 105-96 win at the American Airlines Center.
Despite the lowly opponent, Friday night was nothing less than a must-win game for postseason-minded Dallas. They are after all in the midst of a late-season playoff push, as they battle Denver, Portland and Minnesota for the final seed in the West. Brooklyn however, far and away the worst team in the NBA right with a whopping 53 losses on the year, was going to do everything it could to spoil Dallas’s postseason hopes.
The Nets took a three-point lead into the locker room, frustrating the Mavs’ offense for most of the first three quarters, causing 16 Mavericks turnovers throughout the game. They also did a great job at frustrating the Dallas shooters, holding them to 37.8-percent shooting in the first half, and just 42 percent overall.
Isaiah Whitehead was the Nets leading scorer with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while Jeremy Lin added 18 points in 27 minutes.
Ultimately the Mavs would use a late third-quarter push that bled over into the fourth, and put the lowly Nets down for good, outscoring Brooklyn 61-47 over the final two quarters. And they would do so minus Nerlens Noel, who was held out of the game due to some soreness in his knee.
While the Mavs would miss Noel on the interior, especially defensively, Salah Mejri filled in nicely with nine rebounds and a lot of high-energy play in his 14 minutes.
Dallas was also given a boost by the return of J.J. Barea (calf), who made his first appearance on the floor since January 20th against the Utah Jazz. Though he looked a bit rusty at times, Barea was a welcome addition at a thin point guard position, scoring nine points with three assists in just 14 minutes.
"It feels good to be out there having fun again and helping the team out,'' said Barea, who plans to play in Saturday's back-to-back against the Suns after a Friday during which he contributed nine points on 3-of-6 shooting and three assists while being plus-7 in 14 minutes."I should have fresh legs for the finish of the season."
Seth Curry (18) and Harrison Barnes (21) were once again the dynamic duo for the Mavs offense, with the two combining for 39 points on 50-percent shooting. Yogi Ferrell also added 17 points, while Dirk finished with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting in 23 minutes. (Who Deserves 'The Dirkie'? You vote here!)
Friday’s win was the Mavs (28-36) fourth consecutive victory, tying their longest streak of the season.
As noted above, it will be a quick turnaround however, as the Mavs welcome the Suns (21-44) on the second half of a back-to-back on Saturday night. The matchup will mark the third meeting between the two sides, with each team having won a game. It will also be yet another must-win game for Dallas, but if we’re being frank, every one of the Mavs final 18 games could be filed into that category, as long as they hope to continue their late push into the playoffs.
“This is going to be the same type of challenge,” said Barnes. “You can chalk this up to a couple of days off or maybe a little hangover from the celebration the other night, but (Saturday night) is going to be the exact same thing. So, we have to come ready and be aggressive, knowing that this (Suns) team offensively might be a little more talented (than the Nets).”