Commentary

Mavericks make it a point not to panic

String of tight wins by slimmest of margins shows veteran team keeps calm in clutch

Updated: January 27, 2010, 12:34 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- The 50-point wins come maybe once in a franchise's history. One-point wins, on the other hand, are regular occurrences for the Dallas Mavericks these days.

The Mavs' 108-107 win Tuesday night over the Milwaukee Bucks was their fifth win this season by the slimmest of margins. It extended their winning streak in such games to 10, a run that dates to January 2007 and ties the NBA record set by the St. Louis Hawks in 1959-60.

The Mavs made history and headlines by routing the New York Knicks by half a hundred Sunday. But they're a half-game back of the Denver Nuggets for second-best record in the West primarily because of their ability to pull out close wins.

No team in the NBA wins close games more often than the Mavs. They're 8-1 in games decided by three points or less, 13-4 in games decided by five points or less.

"We've got a lot of veteran guys that have been in tough ballgames," said guard Jason Terry, who scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth quarter against the Bucks. "There's no hesitation. There's always a determination, somewhat of a confidence that if we get in that situation, we know we're going to win."

Statisticians might say that luck is the primary reason for the Mavs' success in such games. While they've had some good fortune -- this game ended with Milwaukee's Carlos Delfino missing a 10-foot runner at the buzzer -- this is a team built to win when the score gets tight.

Ex-coach Avery Johnson cited Jason Kidd's ability to close games as the primary reason the Mavs pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade to acquire him from the New Jersey Nets. That didn't quite work out in Kidd's half-season under Johnson, but it's definitely been the case since Rick Carlisle was hired as head coach (the Mavs are 31-9 in games decided by five points or less under Carlisle).

The Mavs have two of the league's top crunch-time scorers in Dirk Nowitzki and Terry, who rank among the top five in fourth-quarter points this season and combined for 17 in the final stanza against the Bucks. Nowitzki's eight game-winning shots in the final seconds since the start of the 2005-06 season leads the NBA.

The offseason sign-and-trade deal for Shawn Marion added a defensive stopper to the mix. His block of a Caron Butler jumper sealed a one-point win last week over the Washington Wizards.

"We're not a team that's going to panic if we need a shot or we need a stop," Kidd said. "We understand what we need to do at that point. To win this many games by one point, it says that we're doing the right thing at the right time."

Added Carlisle: "It says that we have guys who can keep cool in those situations. You've got to be able to execute at both ends to be able to have that kind of run. My hat's off to them. It's unusual, but to have a successful season, you've got to be able to win close games."

The flip side, though, is that the Mavs have allowed a lot of games to go down to the wire when they had a chance to slam the door.

That's what happened with Milwaukee. The Mavs won't be pleased when they watch the film of the final two minutes, as they went from leading by seven to holding their breath at the buzzer.

"In some of those games, there should have been bigger margins, especially at home and not always let it come down to the last shot," Nowitzki said. "That's very dangerous and sometimes it comes back to hurt you."

Tim MacMahon covers the Dallas Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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