People who have achieved greatness usually know what it looks like, which is why Rick Carlisle’s words before the Mavericks took down his Indiana Pacers Saturday night carried so much weight.
As he assessed the Mavericks, Carlisle said: “They’ve done a lot of things that are very good and very smart. They’ve got a great opportunity ahead of them.”
And also, “They’re having a great year. And they’re very, very hard to play . . . They’re a major threat in the West.”
Those are words not used in connection with the Mavericks since many years back when Carlisle was leading them to glory.
As if on cue, Luka Dončić and Co. made Carlisle look prophetic.
With the superstar point guard leading the way – and getting a big supporting push from Reggie Bullock – the Mavericks bolted out to a double-figure lead in the first quarter, had a wobbly moment, then slowly blew open the game late in the second quarter and second half, eventually pounding the Pacers 132-105 at American Airlines Center.
When it was over, Jason Kidd and Carlisle shared a long embrace near midcourt and Carlisle took time to hug and chat with just about every Maverick.
And Kidd said it means something special to have Carlisle think of these Mavericks as a “major threat.”
“A great compliment from a great coach that has seen a lot of basketball,” Kidd said. “It’s a great compliment to those guys in that locker room that they’re doing the right thing. But we still have a long way to go.”
Of that, there is no doubt. But the Mavericks certainly are pointing in a good direction.
“Obviously, it means a lot because there’s few people who know basketball better than Rick,” said Maxi Kleber, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds on his 30th birthday. “But we have to prove ourselves. I think what makes us a little different from last year is a more solid defense. We’re on a good run and we want to keep improving.”
The Mavericks took care of business to improve to 29-21, their first time this season to get eight games above the break-even mark.
They also have won eight of their last nine home games as they continue to make life tough on visitors to AAC.
And, as the wins keep piling up, the Mavericks now have crept within one game of Utah for the fourth spot in the Western Conference.
It was not all great news, however. Kristaps Porzingis departed in the second quarter and did not return after suffering right knee soreness. He did not return.
The Mavericks are on the second night of back-to-back games Sunday at Orlando. Kidd said he wasn’t sure what Porzingis’ status would be against the Magic.
One of his teammates said Porzingis probably is a little iffy.
“Yeah, he said he’s worried a little bit,” said Dončić, who had 30 points to go with 12 assists and six rebounds. “Hopefully it’s nothing. If he’s hurting, it doesn’t make sense to play.”
It didn’t slow them much against the Pacers.
The night started emotionally. Carlisle, the only coach to lead the Mavericks to a championship (in 2011) was the man of the moment, with a pregame video tribute paying homage to his 13 seasons leaving Carlisle misty-eyed.
But the warm and fuzzies lasted only for that moment.
The Pacers were down 32-19 late in the first quarter, cut it back to 57-55 with two minutes left in the half.
Then, Dončić took charge, with some help from Reggie Bullock.
As one of the players that the Mavericks hope can pick up the slack left from Tim Hardaway Jr.’s broken left foot, Bullock came up big in the last two minutes of the half with eight points over three possessions.
Bullock had 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting (3-of-3 from deep) in the second quarter. He would finish with a season-best 23 points.
When Dončić finished the half by launching from the left corner at the buzzer, the Mavericks had run up a 72-60 lead with their 15-5 blitz to close out the second quarter.
The margin continued to grow after halftime. The Mavericks were up 104-80 after three quarters as Bullock was scorching with 8-of-9 shooting through three quarters (6-of-7 from long range).
And Carlisle remained impressed.
“That’s a team that’s got a real chance, not only to come out of the West, but they’re a good contender,” he said. “They are very, very good and we obviously didn’t have our best game.”
The Pacers had gone to overtime Friday night to win in Oklahoma City.
The Mavericks led by 113-86, though the Pacers cut it to 16 late, which prompted coach Jason Kidd to reinsert Luka, which triggered a strong finish by the Mavericks.
As always, there was a reason why Kidd put the starters back in.
“I thought they were making a run,” he said. “I didn’t think the group that was out there was playing well. And I also had this idea just to see how we would play if we sit for a long, long time and then (we’re) asked to do something for two minutes. I give a lot of credit to Luka and those guys who did come in. They settled things down and took control of the game.”