For teams in the NBA playoff hunt, the final stretch of the regular season is when star players are expected to step up and deliver.
The surging Brooklyn Nets may fit this description, but they’ve also been getting a major lift from their rookie center.
Mason Plumlee looks to continue his strong play in the middle as the Nets seek their fourth straight win and 11th in 13 games against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night.
With starting center Kevin Garnett sidelined since March 1 because of a back injury, Plumlee has stepped into the lineup and put together a solid month. He’s averaging 8.3 points on 68.5 percent shooting with 5.6 rebounds to help the Nets (36-31) go 9-2 in March, and his numbers have been even better in the last week.
The rookie is scoring 14.3 points per game during Brooklyn’s current win streak after finishing with 18 on 6-of-7 shooting in a 114-98 victory over Boston on Friday.
"(Mason’s) growing each time he takes the floor, the more minutes he gets the better he gets," coach Jason Kidd said. "Being a rookie, he’s going to make some mistakes but the way he can finish around the rim with the guys that are passing the balls, it’s fun to watch. Mason is a big part of our success right now."
Joe Johnson had 27 points and Paul Pierce added 14 for the Nets, who sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference – one game behind Chicago and one ahead of Washington coming into Saturday.
Johnson has also come up big lately, averaging 20.5 points over the last four games, and after going 6 of 8 from 3-point range against the Celtics, he is shooting 60.9 percent from beyond the arc in that span.
The victory was Brooklyn’s 11th straight at home, but the Nets have gone 5-6 in their last 11 on the road. They’ve averaged 103.5 points during the home streak and 94.8 over those 11 away games.
Brooklyn has won two straight in Dallas but will need to get its offense moving in a road game with the Mavericks (42-28) averaging 111.0 points on 50.5 percent shooting while winning four of their last five.
Dallas, which is seventh in the West, is 2-1 on an eight-game homestand following a 122-106 win over Denver on Friday. Monta Ellis had 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and Dirk Nowitzki added 21.
"I thought it was a solid team effort all the way across the board," Nowitzki told the Mavs’ website. "Everybody was playing well … and Monta did a heck of a job there closing us out. I mean, they were still kind of hanging around and down 10 or eight is nothing in this league. And then Monta just got hot, drove a couple of shots and put it away."
Dallas has been shooting well from long range over the last five games, hitting 46.3 percent of its 3-point attempts. Ellis has been especially hot, going 8 of 13 from outside the arc in that stretch.
Brooklyn won the previous meeting this season, 107-106 at home on Jan. 24 behind 34 points from Mirza Teletovic.
The Nets haven’t won three straight in Dallas since 1993.