Pacers-Mavericks Preview

Dirk Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks teammates pledged earlier

this season not to shave until the team returned to the .500

mark.

The Mavericks are close to getting their razors ready and will

try to even their record for the first time in 3 1/2 months with

Thursday night’s visit from a surging Indiana Pacers team that’s

approaching full health.

With nine wins in the last 12 contests, Dallas is now within one

game of .500 for the first time since it was 11-11 on Dec. 12. The

Mavericks (35-36) are also making a considerable push for a 13th

consecutive playoff berth, now sitting just 1 1/2 games behind the

eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers after beginning March five games

out of postseason position.

“We’ve been fighting to get to (.500). I feel like we’re playing

our basketball. The boys are playing well and better off each

other,” Nowitzki said. “It’s a good time to play your best

basketball. We’ll see how far we can take it.

“I’m ready to get this (beard) off. It’s a big outing for us

Thursday against a very tough team. That’ll be a big game for

us.”

Beating Indiana would give the Mavericks their longest home

winning streak of the season at four. Dallas improved to 3-1 on its

six-game homestand Tuesday with a 109-102 overtime victory against

the Los Angeles Clippers.

Nowitzki had eight of his season-high 33 points in the extra

period, and was among six Dallas players to score in double

figures.

“We’ve got to find a way to win those close games. We’ve been

doing a lot better the last two weeks or so,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve

found a decent mixture the last couple of weeks of leadership and

playing well together. Hopefully, we can keep it up.”

The Pacers (45-27) haven’t had David West for the last six games

due to a sprained lower back, but they earned their fifth win in

that stretch Wednesday, 100-91 in Houston, behind Roy Hibbert’s

season-high 28 points and 13 rebounds.

“This was Roy Hibbert’s best overall game,” coach Frank Vogel

said. “And with David West out, we needed him to score more and be

more of a post presence and he was terrific on the offensive end as

well.”

Hibbert may not have to do nearly as much Thursday. West is

expected to return against the Mavericks as is Danny Granger, who

has missed all but five games this season but should be available

to come off the bench down the stretch.

West had 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting and Paul George scored 30

in the most recent visit to Dallas, a 98-87 win on Feb. 3, 2012.

The victory snapped the Pacers’ seven-game skid at the American

Airlines Center.

Nowitzki had 30 points in the loss and is averaging 27.4 over

his last 14 matchups with Indiana, his best performance against any

opponent since the beginning of the 2004-05 season. He didn’t

played in the Pacers’ 103-83 win on Nov. 16 in Indianapolis.

Lance Stephenson was one of six Pacers in double figures in that

contest, finishing with 12, and he had a season-high 21 points

Wednesday after missing a game with a strained hip flexor.

The win in Houston kept Indiana five games ahead of Chicago in

the Central Division and tied with New York for the second seed in

the Eastern Conference.