DALLAS — Until Dirk Nowitzki returns to the lineup sometime around Christmas, the Mavericks will be in survival mode. But under the right circumstances, they can at least compete with some of the elite teams in the NBA.
On the night before Thanksgiving, this odd collection of veterans and short-time contracts found a way to hold onto a 114-111 victory over the New York Knicks (8-2). It was a night when fans were reacquainted with two key players from the 2011 title team, Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd, who were brilliant in a losing effort.
But it was Mavs veteran Vince Carter who turned back the clock and led his team to a confidence-boosting win in front of 20,157 at American Airlines Center. He scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, nailing 5-of-10 3-pointers.
Carter was still nursing a hamstring injury he suffered in the second half of Monday’s loss to the Warriors. To make matters worse, he said his shot hasn’t felt right recently. Carter focused on his mechanics before Wednesday’s game and started to get in a better rhythm. He connected on consecutive 3-pointers early in the second quarter to tie the game at 30.
It was a much-needed scoring punch for a team that has relied heavily on O.J. Mayo through the first 13 games of the season. Mayo had a team-high 27 against the Knicks, but he was marveling at Carter’s performance after the game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Carter blew by Kidd on the baseline and then palmed the ball with his outstretched right hand Dr. J style before making a reverse layup while being fouled. His free throw gave the Mavs a 90-82 lead.
“In my eyes, he’s still Half-Man, Half-Amazing,” said Mayo, referring to one of Carter’s old nicknames. “He still has some left in the tank.”
The Mavs needed all of Carter’s points to hold off a furious Knicks rally that was fueled by Chandler. The former Mavs center scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and he kept possessions alive with his uncanny knack for swatting loose balls directly to teammates.
The Knicks had a chance to win in the final minute, but Mavs forward Shawn Marion challenged Carmelo Anthony’s 15-foot jumper with 4.8 seconds remaining. Marion harassed Anthony for much of the game, which led to his 7-of-16 shooting performance.
“He did a great job, especially on that last possession,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Marion. “We weren’t sure what they were going to do, but we had a switching lineup because the pick-and-roll had killed us all night and they went (isolation). I always like Shawn’s odds in those situations where he can play a guy one-on-one. He’s the best we have.”
Before the game, Chandler and Kidd were warmly received by fans. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has been highly critical of the way Kidd reneged on an offer from the Mavs this past offseason, and the two didn’t speak Wednesday, according to Kidd.
“Somewhere down the road we’ll talk,” Kidd said after the game.
A dejected Chandler sat in front of his locker and talked about how the Knicks took their foot off the pedal in the third quarter. New York had a 72-64 lead before the Mavs went on a 29-10 run and eventually took a 12-point lead.
Chandler said he didn’t get that emotional returning to Dallas since most of his teammates from the championship team are either gone or injured. But his mood brightened when he was asked about Carlisle.
“I love coach Carlisle,” Chandler told FoxSportsSouthwest.com. “With the players they threw together in the offseason, he somehow keeps them in games every single night. That just shows you what kind of coach he is.”
Unlike Cuban, Carlisle doesn’t have any hard feelings toward Kidd. He watched him score 17 points, collect five steals and six rebounds, while dishing out five assists on Wednesday.
“Never underestimate greatness at any age,” Carlisle said of Kidd.
Until Nowitzki returns, it’s hard to get a sense of where this Mavs season is heading. But when you can beat a Knicks team on a night when Kidd and Chandler combine for 38 points and 19 rebounds, it ought to count for something.