ORLANDO – The All-Star break seemed to sit well with the Mavericks, and especially Maxi Kleber.
Luka Doncic made sure the Mavericks returned to action with gusto on Friday night and Kleber did his best impersonation of another big German back in the day, turning in a shooting performance Dirk Nowitzki would be proud of.
Tack on Kristaps Porzingis coming up big at opportune times and the Mavericks got back to work with a solid 122-106 victory over the Orlando Magic at Amway Center.
Kleber finished with a career-best 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He was on the floor late in the third quarter and for the first six minutes of the fourth when the Mavericks steadied themselves after Orlando had taken their first (and only) lead of the night at 69-68.
When Kleber checked out in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were ahead 109-95 and cruised to the finish.
It was a welcomed sight after Kleber had struggled in the final few games before the All-Star break, He was 15-of-41 from the field in the last six games before the break.
“Thanks for reminding me,” he said with a grin. “I knew the numbers were going down before the All-Star break, but you got to stay confident in what you do and how you play. I just keep going.
“Obviously, the break mentally was helpful and good just to relax a little. But now we have the last third of the season and we want to finish strong.”
Asked what specifically felt better after the nine-day break, Kleber said: “Legs, mental, everything. This break was needed because the schedule has been really crazy. A couple days to get your mind off and get off your legs obviously helps.”
Kleber teamed with Jalen Brunson during the critical stretch. The Mavericks had seen their 18-point first-half lead erased and needed some punch.
Brunson had five assists in the game off the bench, four of them in the fourth quarter when the Mavericks stashed the game.
“He definitely had fresh legs,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Kleber. “He’s been shooting the ball great in practice. The boost he and Brunson gave us at the beginning of the fourth was huge. Those guys made about five plays in a row and gave us some separation and allowed us to bring the game home. I think the break energizes everybody to a degree.”
It’s always a bit of a crapshoot to see how a team responds after a nine-day break, but the Mavericks passed that test with flying colors as they improved to 34-22. They also remained masterful on the road at 19-8.
They got off to a fast start behind Doncic, who had 24 of his 33 points in the first half. He added 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Porzingis had 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and also hit the midrange jumper that put the Mavericks back in front 70-69, which stopped the bleeding that had been going on.
Carlisle, by the way, had started the day by addressing the Mavericks about their position in the Western Conference.
Now, with only 26 games left, the focus on playoff standings and matchups will become more intense. He wanted to insure his team knew about their situation and what they can expect.
During the practice sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, Carlisle made a point to mention that he had not harped on the standings. That changed on Friday, he said, although it still won’t be a constant focus.
“We talked about it (at the team’s breakfast meeting) and I purposely stayed away from talking about standings with our team largely because of the age of our team,” Carlisle said. “I really want to concentrate on the day-to-day growth and staying in the process.
“But this is the home stretch. We talked about where we were. We’re not going to belabor it on a day-to-day basis. But this stretch of 27 games is big. We have great respect for the meaning attached to it in terms of positioning and wanting to be playing well down the stretch.”
MKG makes Mavs’ debut: Newcomer Michael Kidd-Gilchrist saw his first action since being signed by the Mavericks before the All-Star break.
Carlisle said that the 6-6 forward put in a lot of time during All-Star weekend to regain some game conditioning after seeing only brief action in 11 games this season at Charlotte.
“He’s certainly closer than he was a week and a half ago when we got him,” Carlisle said. “He’s worked hard. He stayed in Dallas over the break. He’s had a couple good days of practice.
“We’ll see. But he’s working extremely hard and I like where he’s at now relative to where he was 10 or 12 days ago when we got him in here.”