Without cracking much of a sweat, the Dallas Mavericks won the franchise’s fourth divisional title Friday night with a relatively easy 110-90 triumph over the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers at American Airlines Center.
In the big picture, winning the Southwest Division is only the appetizer toward the main course the Mavs want to be feasting on later this month.
“It’s cool, but we really want to start winning games for real in a couple of weeks,” guard Josh Richardson said. “I think that’s the big goal here. But I think it’s pretty dope.”
In winning for the ninth time in their last 11 games, the Mavs raised their record to 39-28, 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. They also lowered their magic number to clinching one of the Western Conference’s all-important top six seeds – and avoiding the dreaded play-in tournament – to just three games after the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 106-101, late Friday night.
But the Mavs know winning the division could come into play down the road in case Dallas, the Lakers and Blazers end the season with identical records.
“The league has maintained a level of importance with the division,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “You’re referring to if it’s a three-way tie it becomes very important. And there are other tie-breaking implications as well.
“Listen, I think it’s something that’s always worthwhile. It shows that you’re one of the better teams – certainly the best team in your region of the league. It’s big. We’ll take it.”
On Friday, it didn’t take long for the Mavs to take out the Cavs, who have lost 12 of their past 13 games and are 21-46 on the season. Thanks to 11 points from Tim Hardaway Jr. and a half court shot by Trey Burke, the Mavs held a comfortable 33-19 lead after the first quarter.
That advantage mushroomed to 62-37 at halftime and to as much as 29 points – 68-39 – early in the third quarter. It was as if the Mavs — they won the division for the first time since 2010 — were able to do whatever they wanted to against a Cavs’ team who they’ll play again in Cleveland on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Luka Doncic become the fastest player in Mavs history to score 5,000 career points as he accomplished that feat in only 194 games, surpassing Mark Aguirre, who did it in 202 games.
Doncic also became the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to reach the 5,000-point milestone as he reached that plateau at 22 years and 67 days old. The only players who got there faster are LeBron James (21 years, 22 days), Kevin Durant (21 years, 133 days) and Carmelo Anthony (21 years, 292 days).
In the meantime, things were never problematic for the Mavs as they led 86-65 after the third quarter and didn’t play any of their starters in the mop-up duty fourth quarter.
“I really loved our first half,” Carlisle said. “I thought defensively we did many, many good things – a couple of mistakes here and there.
“They made some runs in the second half. But the group that finished with (Nate) Hinton and (Josh) Green, (Jalen) Brunson, Burke, (Dwight) Powell or (Willie) Cauley-Stein did a really good job holding the fort there. I didn’t want to have to put the starters back in, so props to them.”
Props also to Carlisle, who collected his 833th victory and moved past Cotton Fitzsimmons and into sole possession of 15th place on the NBA’s all-time list for wins by a coach.
After a dogfight in surviving Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, 113-109, the Mavs were so in control of Friday’s contest that Doncic only played 23 minutes and finished with 24 points and eight rebounds. Also for the Mavs, Hardaway tallied 20 points and Richardson added 18.
With the NBA Draft Lottery in their future during the offseason, the Cavs were led by Collin Sexton (27 points), Cedi Osman (22 points) and Isaac Okoro (15 points).
The Mavs shot 49.4 percent from the field and held Cleveland to just 38.6 percent shooting, including only 6-of-29 baskets from beyond the 3-point arc. And with the Lakers and Blazers breathing down their backs, the Mavs are fully aware of the need to just keep stacking wins.
“Obviously every win is really important and we’ve got to see these guys in a couple of days,” Carlisle said of the Cavs. “It’s important to get this win and try to get through this game unscathed and get ready for Sunday.”