DALLAS — With their eyes focused squarely on the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks have been chalking up victories at a rapid pace lately.
Wednesday's workmanlike 108-89 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at American Airlines Center was the Mavericks' 10th win in their past 12 games. It's also their most impressive stretch of basketball since they went 18-1 from Jan. 22 to March 4, 2011 - the year the Mavs claimed their lone NBA championship.
"We've done better the last couple of weeks. But look, we've got a long way to go, and it's all going to be coming fast and furious," coach Rick Carlisle said. "The home games are obviously of great importance. Chicago coming in (on Friday) is going to be another hard physical game, and we're going to have to be ready for that."
The Pelicans threw a physical challenge at the Mavs (36-23), who are are now in sixth place in the Western Conference standings after the Bulls took care of the Golden State Warriors 103-83 on Wednesday.
Carlisle had to call for a 20-second timeout just 31 seconds into the game after Dirk Nowitzki went to the locker room while rubbing his left shoulder. Nowitzki returned with 8:44 left in the first period and finished with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting in only 27 minutes as the Mavs finished the season 4-0 against the Pelicans.
"I think he just had a zinger in his left arm or shoulder, so hopefully he's OK," Carlisle said. "He seemed to be OK the rest of the game."
Nowitzki acknowledged that he's had issues with his left shoulder ever since Utah's Karl Malone hacked him in 1999.
"The shoulder just sometimes comes in and out a little bit, but it tingles a little bit for a couple of minutes," Nowitzki said. "I walked it off in the tunnel and was able to finish the game."
The Pelicans weren't so fortunate when it came to left shoulders as All-Star forward Anthony Davis left the game for good with 3:58 remaining in the first half when he sprained his left shoulder. Without their anchor, the Pelicans were like a bird flying in the path of an airplane.
Dallas only led 37-36 when Davis went down, but that ballooned to 78-64 late in the third period and 93-71 midway through the fourth quarter as the Mavs stepped on the gas and New Orleans offered little resistance.
"I think we're coming along at the right time," said Monta Ellis, who scored a game-high 23 points while adding seven assists and four steals. "I think everybody is tuned in and accepting their role of what they need to do to help us win, and everybody's been playing together."
One of the players who has patiently accepted his role is Wayne Ellington. Chained to the bench for most of the season, Ellington responded Wednesday with 12 points while converting 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range as he has clearly moved ahead of Jae Crowder in the rotation.
"He hasn't played a lot this year, but when he's played, he's played hard and effectively," Carlisle said of Ellington. "So this past week was time to give him a shot, and he's responded well.
"What gets people's attention is when you make shot, but he's doing other things as well or better. He's playing hard on defense, been in the right place, doing things hard, making simple hard plays, so he's given us a lift."
The Mavs also got another lift from Vince Carter, who tallied 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 22 minutes. In addition, the Mavs shot 51.9 percent from the field and turned a season-high 21 Pelicans turnovers into 30 points.
"I think we are stringing together multiple stops and sharing the ball a lot more," said Shawn Marion, who had 10 points, eight rebounds and three steals. "If we continue doing that, we will continue to get better.
"We are not over the hump just yet, but we are showing signs of how good we can possibly be."