A pair of joyous events took place Monday night.
First, the Mavericks got their heads back above .500 for the first time in more than a month, which put a smile on everybody’s face.
But it was how they got their 130-124 victory over Orlando that should really push fans’ optimism in overdrive.
Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Dončić paired up for the sort of flashy, efficient stretch that has been hard to come by this season for a variety of reasons. They dominated the second half as the Mavericks improved to 17-16, the first time they can say they’re a winning team since Jan. 22, when they were 8-7.
It was particularly encouraging to see Porzingis come alive. He made his first shot of the game, then missed eight in a row to finish a forgettable first half.
Undeterred, he made his first 3-pointer after halftime, would go on to hit three of four from beyond the arc in the second half and teamed with Dončić for 33 points and 11 rebounds after halftime.
The Mavericks padded their lead to 120-102 with under five minutes to play before a flurry of 3-pointers tightened the score at the end.
Porzingis’ season has had its ups and downs, mostly with health issues causing the downs.
But Monday appeared to be a wonderful sign for the future.
“Whenever we see a guy like KP make shots, that given us energy,” said Jalen Brunson, who brought plenty of that energy, too. “Obviously, he’s very important to this team. Just to see him hit a couple shots and try to get his rhythm back, which he will . . . we have his back. It’s not just him out there. We’re going to do everything we can to help each other win.”
Porzingis finished with 17 points (15 after halftime) and 10 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season. It was an active half for him at both ends of the court.
One play early in the fourth quarter typified the second half. Porzingis blocked a shot by Terrence Ross, which triggered a fast break. But before that break was done, all five Mavericks would touch the ball and Brunson finally was left all alone for a 3-pointer that put the Mavericks up 111-96.
It was that kind of play that suggests the Mavericks have found a new normal.
“I really loved the way we played,” Carlisle said. “The ball moved in a wonderful fashion.
“I thought KP had a great floor game and his shot-making in the second half was really key. But I loved the way he played overall. He was a big presence around the basket and the work he put in the previous 10 days leading up to the Brooklyn game has made a huge difference in his ability to guard and contest at the rim. He’s done a great job the last couple games.”
Perhaps best of all, Porzingis did not appear to be favoring his back at all. He missed the first three games after eight-day layoff for the winter storm with a stiff back.
And then there was Dončić, who once again stuffed the stat sheet with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Just another day at the office a day after his 22nd birthday.
Dončić, who said “the whole team was having fun” as the Mavericks wrapped up a 2-1 trip east, isn’t the least bit worried about Porzingis.
“You’re human. You are going to have (some) bad games during a career,” he said. “He’s got to keep the head up. He can make all those shots. We know that. So just go to the next game. The NBA is great because you got the next game in two days.”
That would be against Oklahoma City on Wednesday at American Airlines Center in the final game before a seven-day All-Star break.
The Mavericks should have a healthy dose of confidence carrying them into that game as they are back on the top side of .500.
While Porzingis and Dončić led the way, Brunson continued his torrid run of late with 24 points off the bench on 9-of-13 shooting.
He’s been a major reason the Mavericks have won eight of their last 10 games to get back over .500.
“We’re much better when we’re not directly dealing with COVID, like every other team in the NBA,” said Carlisle when asked what he’s learned about his team in the last few weeks. “We’ve learned some things along the way. As a team, we weren’t in great condition at the beginning of the season. That cost us, even though the schedule was very difficult either way.
“The guys have grown together (through) our struggles and adversities. And it’s made us stronger. We’re still not perfect. We still have conflicts here and there that happen. But as a group, these guys respect each other and they’re playing a really excellent brand of basketball the last 10 games. So, there’s good signs.”
With Porzingis getting in gear near the top of the list.