Just 24 hours after their most lopsided loss of the season in Charlotte, the Mavs forged their most impressive win of the season in Indiana, a gritty 81-73 victory over a Pacers team that might be the NBA’s best. As Dallas goes into the All-Star Break 10 games over .500, maybe the feared ‘Treadmill Of Mediocrity’ is actually a thrill ride.
The Dallas Mavericks‘ Wednesday visit to Indianapolis truly defines the concept of the "scheduled loss.’’
Dallas was coming off a blowout 114-89 loss at Charlotte. … was playing on the butt end of a road back-to-back … was gameplanning to rely on a balky-ankled Dirk Nowitzki and to be without Devin Harris (knee) … was lining up take on an East-leading Pacers team that might have the right stuff to compete with the regal Heat … and came into the evening with an almost unbreakable roll at home, having lost just two games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse all season long.
How the heck did the Mavericks do this?
"If you look at the whole situation — us back-to-back, them (being rested) and all that kind of stuff — this is a big win for us," coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. "It really is. We needed it, because we had built up good momentum and seemingly last night we just let everything blow to smithereens. And this shows that the guys understand the importance of playing together and playing tough and playing for each other."
You can sense Carlisle feeling for something deep in this win, fishing for something deep … and maybe it’s in there in Monta Ellis scoring 23 points with six assists while grabbing an improbable nine rebounds. Maybe it’s in there in defenders Shawn Marion and Sam Dalembert helping to limit their opposite numbers, superstar Paul George and All-Star Roy Hibbert, to four field goals and four points, respectively.
Maybe it’s in there in Dirk bouncing around on his rubbery ankle to score 18.
"It was probably the most physical game I’ve been in in a long time," said Nowitzki, who often found himself in the middle of the flying elbows. "Usually we win when we outscore people. But tonight we showed we could win a different way."
The "different way” almost sounds like a foreign word, but it’s simply … "defense.”
The Mavs are among the NBA’s highest-scoring clubs, but generally, when that falters, this team follows suit. Here, the Mavs achieved their second-lowest point total of the season by limiting the Pacers to 32-percent shooting, played the 40-12 Pacers even after one quarter (19-19 felt like a victory after what had happened in Charlotte) and in the fourth quarter, bulldozed Indy with a 21-11 edge.
"They beat us at our game," said George Hill of Indiana, statistically the NBA’s best defensive club.
More than that: Dallas beat the Pacers at a game Dallas probably didn’t know it was capable of playing.
The Mavs forced 20 turnovers. Standouts like Hill, Danny Granger, Lance Stephenson and David West were nullified. When Indy made a late push, Ellis coolly sank four free throws in the waning seconds to ice the Mavs’ first win at Indy since November 2009.
"We already know if we play like this defensively and help each other,” said Ellis, "we can play with any team in the league.”
If the Mavericks didn’t truly believe it before, they’ve given themselves evidence that can sink in during this weekend’s All-Star Break. Dallas goes into the break having won six of seven to climb to 32-22. We talk a lot about Mark Cuban’s hated "Treadmill of Mediocrity,” but the truth is, last year’s Dallas club was six games below .500 at this point while this year’s Mavs are presently in a virtual tie for sixth place in the impossibly-challenging West.
"We were able to make just enough plays," Carlisle said. "It was just a very competitive game from start to finish. There was a lot of attitude in the game, which is great. … It was like a playoff-type simulated game. … We were able to get out of here alive."