Mavericks poised for turnaround as Wizards visit

The Dallas Mavericks enter the New Year with new hope that a turnaround is around the corner. They’re getting healthier and have looked better recently.

The Mavericks’ first test of 2017 comes Tuesday night in the lone visit from the Washington Wizards this season to American Airlines Center.

Dallas (10-24) has won four of its last eight games, which is a considerable uptick for a team that entered Monday tied with Phoenix for last place in the Western Conference.

“I felt like the last couple of weeks we’ve been playing .500 ball, which is OK,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “It’s a lot better than what we started off, and now we’ll get more healthy and hopefully take another step. We’ve got to let it rip. We’re all competitors, and Coach obviously is pushing us every day.”

The Mavs did begin Monday only 4.5 games behind Sacramento (14-19) for the last playoff spot in the West. The playoffs remain the goal.

“We obviously know we have a legit shot,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got to put a little string together and we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to find a way in close games to close some of those out and not always come out on the losing end.”

The return of Nowitzki to the lineup is another reason for optimism. The league’s sixth-leading career scorer has missed the majority of the season battling Achilles soreness, but Nowitzki has made the best of his limited court time lately.

Nowitzki has logged 70 minutes over his last four games and scored 45 points on 16-of-41 shooting.

The speculation that Dallas has an eye to the lottery hasn’t filtered down to its franchise player.

“I don’t think we’re really playing for draft position,” Nowitzki said. “We’re playing to win every night.”

The Mavs could be without starting point guard Deron Williams due to illness. Backup guard J.J. Barea (left leg muscle strain) is out.

The Wizards (16-17) saw their three-game winning streak snapped Monday night, 101-91 at Houston, and failed to move above .500 for the first time this season.

Bradley Beal did return after missing one game with a sprained ankle to score a team-high 27. John Wall, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, added 18 points and 12 assists.

The Wizards were up 29-14 after the first quarter and 53-41 at the half. Houston outscored Washington by 37-17 in the third period.

“We didn’t come out with the same intensity offensively,” Wall said of the second half. “We knew they were going to make shots and we weren’t being aggressive. They did some switching, trying to trap me and Brad to get the ball out of our hands. We didn’t do a great job of getting stops.”

Wall averaged 24.3 points, an NBA-leading 13 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals in three games last week.

Washington snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Mavericks with last season’s win in Dallas. The Wizards are 1-5 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.