Commentary

Mavericks make it an uneven dozen

Killer instinct may be missing, but that hasn't prevented the wins from piling up

Updated: December 12, 2010, 2:10 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Even Mark Cuban opted not to overhype the streak before Saturday night's touch-and-go victory ran it to 12 in a row. In fact, the owner's words never rang truer after his club put on a dizzying rendition of The Best & The Worst of the Dallas Mavericks.

Cuban expressed concern that his team sometimes falls into default mode, doing just enough to win, an issue that's not exactly new regarding the Mavs' killer instinct. Saturday's 103-97 mad scramble to get past the Utah Jazz is the latest and most glaring example.

After the Mavs stunned the Jazz with one of the all-time mesmerizing starts, burying 7-of-8 from beyond the arc and rollicking to a 29-4 lead in the opening seven minutes, they found themselves locked in an 89-89 struggle with 4:31 to play.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezDirk Nowitzki's steady play and Jason Terry's late hot hand helped the Mavericks hold off the NBA's comeback kings.

Late-game heroics from flip-the-switch-shooter Jason Terry and the ever-dazzling Dirk Nowitzki finally put this one to bed.

"And that's my biggest concern with this team," Cuban said. "We try to win games instead of focusing on executing 48 minutes so that we're championship caliber. But that's been my concern with every team."

As expected, the locker room was a mixed bag of emotion. How really is a game like that to be analyzed and assessed?

A great win over a tough opponent? Or sick to the stomach?

"A little bit of both," said Nowitzki, who continued his tantalizing stretch of ultra-efficient scoring with 31 points on 10-of-12 shooting. "We love to keep winning, obviously, but you also want to work on some stuff. Definitely have to work on keeping the pressure up on both sides of the floor, being a little more consistent. We started turning the ball over there too much. They threw a little zone at us there and we didn't look good against the zone.

"But it's good to know we've got some stuff to work on. We'd be in trouble if we were already at our limit right now."

And keep in mind that this was the Jazz, the NBA's cardiac kids of 2010. Already they've rallied from 22 to beat the Miami Heat, have twice won after being down by 19 and twice after being down 18. Eight times they've won after falling behind by 10. While 25 points is the Grand Canyon of deficits, the Jazz are used to the climb.

But mudslides are also nothing new for the Mavs (19-4), who had the New Jersey Nets buried by 21 points in the third quarter Thursday only to find their lead cut to five with two minutes in the third quarter. There's no reason to list the other home games this season and last when the Mavs sucked the life out of their own building.

"It was bittersweet," said Terry, who almost instantly went from ice-cold to volcanic between the third and fourth quarters, devastating the Jazz with big buckets in the final period for 12 of his 14 points. "For me, I take huge pride in being a guy on the bench that comes in and provides energy. Tonight that energy wasn't there for whatever reason. Me personally, I felt like we let the starters down. For them to get on a run the way they did and for us not to maintain it, it was disappointing. And it was tough to fight through. But we persevered."

Saturday night was one of the rare times the bench hadn't played well since the sixth game of the season when Terry returned to his sixth-man role and DeShawn Stevenson ascended from the end of the bench to invaluable starter. Stevenson was part of the charm again with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the arc.

At the 4:33 mark of the first quarter, after Paul Millsap made the first of two free throws, Rick Carlisle subbed in Terry for Stevenson, Brendan Haywood for Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion for Nowitzki. After Millsap made the second free throw, the Mavs' lead was 29-6.

The Jazz then went on a Deron Williams-led run, and pulled withing 31-19 with 11.1 seconds left in the period.

From there it was a roller coaster. The Mavs led in the second quarter by as many as 18, yet they went to halftime up by 12. Barely a minute into the third period and the Jazz were knocking on the door down by seven. Six minutes later, it was 18 again, but after another rough run by the bench, Utah was back in striking distance, down 11 after three.

The Mavs' fourth-quarter defense that's been so good this season was a no-show, just as it was Tuesday in the five-point win over Golden State.

"A lot of people are going to nitpick this win," Carlisle said, "but I'm not going to. I'm happy."

And perhaps that's all it should be; a win to be happy with. Game No. 23 goes down as a real doozy, but the Mavs extended their streak. And that's what matters considering the circumstances, which Carlisle also put into perspective.

"We're on a 12-game win streak," Carlisle said. "And that puts us second in our division."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.

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