DALLAS -- Rick Carlisle coached the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals and through the much darker days during the aftermath of the brawl in Detroit.
He loves the way team president Larry Bird has re-built a team that has only Danny Granger and Jeff Foster left from Carlisle's years. The big addition in free agency for this season was former New Orleans Hornets forward David West, who initially appeared on his way to Boston before choosing the Pacers. With 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert emerging and Granger continuing to lead the team in scoring, the Pacers are off to a 15-6 start and they've done it despite playing 14 of 21 on the road, going 9-5.
"They're now a championship-contending team," Carlisle said. "Now they're in a healthy place financially with their cap. Larry Bird has done a phenomenal job. That team would be second in the West with their record. That's the other thing, the schedule's coming back to them because they're going to be home a lot. Look, they have a really, really good veteran, young team. They can beat anybody."
Records: Pacers (15-6); Mavs (14-9)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Center
Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Mavs expect to have Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood and Lamar Odom back in the lineup tonight. Marion hyperextended his right knee in Wednesday's game, but he played through the pain and said he'll play tonight. Without Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki slumping, Dallas needs its top players in the game and that includes Haywood's interior defense and rebounding, and Odom as well. It's high time that the 6-10 Odom, one of the more versatile fowards in the game, comes through, not only for his production, to help ease Nowitzki's minutes. Nowitzki played 38 minutes in two of the last three games since his return and that's likely too many.
Key matchup: Roy Hibbert vs. Brendan Haywood
Haywood said Thursday that he expects to play and the Mavs need his 7-foot, 263-pound frame to man the middle against the 7-2, 260-pound Hibbert. The fourth-year pro out of Georgetown has quietly become one of the top centers in the league, averaging 14.0 points on 52.5 percent shooting and 9.8 rebounds. Haywood won't match his scoring, but he has to be a force in pushing Hibbert away from the basket as well as making his presence felt on the boards. Hibbert is a big reason why no team grabs more rebounds per game than the Pacers, who rank seventh in rebounding differential. Dallas ranks 18th.
Injuries: Pacers - G George Hill (left ankle) is out; F Jeff Foster (lower back) is out. Mavs - G Jason Kidd (strained right calf ) is out; F Shawn Marion (hyperextended right knee) is probable; C Brendan Haywood (lower back) is probable; F Lamar Odom (stomach) is probable.
Up next: Mavs at Cleveland Cavaliers, 6:30 p.m., Saturday