Mavs stay alive in playoff race with win

DALLAS – ‘Keep hope alive,’ said Mike James, who scored a season-high 19 points in Sunday’s 113-108 home win over the Jazz. ‘That’s our motto. We have a small heartbeat. But we have a heartbeat. Keep hope alive.”

Dallas had a blowout alive until a late Utah run, but the win puts the Mavs just two games back of the eighth-place Lakers.

It’s been a long time since 37-year-old Mike James experienced a scoring game like this. It’s been a long time since this season’s Dallas Mavericks had as much hope as this.

“Look, we’re not a perfect team, in case anybody hasn’t noticed,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. 

Imperfect? Painfully so, and that was on exhibit here as the Mavs built a huge second-half edge and looked to cruise to the end … before having to hang on at game’s end.

“We played 46, 47 minutes of good basketball, but this is a 48-minute game,” said James, who last scored 19 points in a game four seasons ago when he played for Washington. “We became undisciplined in the last minute.”

Dallas held a one-point lead at halftime but in the third quarter started pulling away from a Jazz team that came into the game with eight straight road losses. A James 3-pointer put Dallas up 74-69. He scored four more points to end the period, lifting the Mavs to an advantage of 83-71.

By the 9:55 mark of the fourth, the Mavs had mounted a 20-2 run and grabbed an 89-71 advantage with 9:55 left. But Utah went on its own 21-7 run in the final three minutes and got to within three points with seven seconds left.

“The end of the game was ugly,” Carlisle conceded. “We got through it. I guess I’ve been around this game long enough to realize and understand that you can’t make a win feel like a loss. (Utah) did a good job, we did a horrible job, but we got the win so we’ve got to move on.”

In addition to the scoring of James (7-of-10 from the floor, including a trio of 3’s), Dallas got 17 from Dirk Nowitzki and 15 each from Vince Carter and Shawn Marion. In total, seven Mavs scored in double figures as Dallas shot 54.3 percent from the field.

The Mavs and Jazz are now both 34-36. Being two games under .500 means Dallas players might get a chance to shave those “.500 beards.”

“That’s what I’m looking forward to,” Elton Brand said. “Making the playoffs is most important but shaving is essential.”

“We have a goal in mind,” James said. “There shouldn’t be anything to stand in our way. We control our destiny. This game is over with. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for the (Tuesday visit from the) Clippers.”