DALLAS -- Teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder are like the shiny sports cars with the motor revving high, waiting for the light to turn to green. Man, they're fun to watch and the publicity never stops.
The Dallas Mavericks, they're more like the old, reliable sedan. They don't turn many heads and might not put on quite the show, but more often than not it gets the job done. That was the case again Monday night as the little-talked-about defending champs went on a 9-1 run to extinguish another hot-shot contender.
The 96-92 victory, the Mavs' fourth in a row to move them to a season-best seven games over .500 -- and one more victory than the Clippers -- was another example that the Mavs are deep, experienced, smart and when crunch time inevitably comes around against their younger counterparts, they will welcome the situation, now and in the playoffs.
"We have an edge over whoever we play because of our experience, because of what we've went through," Mavs guard Jason Terry said. "I'll take us over anybody in the fourth quarter, tight ballgame, and I believe we'll come out winning more times than not, just again because of our leader Jason Kidd and because of the familiarity that we have with Shawn, myself and Dirk."
All three made plays that contributed to the fourth-quarter lockdown that allowed the Clippers to score 16 points and just eight during a seven-plus-minute stretch during the heart of the quarter. No, it wasn't perfect. Kidd, who had three assists, three rebounds and a steal in the final quarter, almost threw the game away with his ill-fated inbounds pass with less than 10 seconds to go and the lead just two. But, former Mavs forward Caron Butler, who had already buried five 3-pointers for a season-high 23 points, couldn't make it six with 2.9 to play.
But, the Clippers were in a desperation mode because even with the insanely talented Paul directing traffic, execution was flawed at the most pressurized moments of the game -- nine turnovers to five field goals in the fourth quarter with Blake Griffin bricking five free throws and going 1-of-2 in a Hack-a-Blake scenario.
If the Clippers and Thunder are indeed the greatest threat to dethrone the Mavs in the Western Conference, there is work to be done by both. Yes, the Mavs' 2-3 record against these two high-flying outfits might suggest otherwise, but remember, OKC needed a 27-foot Kevin Durant buzzer-beater to win up there in the third game of the season and then squeaked one out here more recently against a depleted Mavs roster that strangely felt more like a Dallas win.
The Clippers needed a buzzer-beater in L.A. without Paul and lost with him Monday. Paul finished with 16 points and nine assists, but he had one inconsequential 3 late in the game and had a bad turnover dribbling through the crowded paint with 4:23 to go, the Mavs up three and the Clippers entering a third minute of a five-minute scoreless drought.
"It's too early to say who you have an edge over," center Brendan Haywood said. "But, at the end of the day we know we're going to execute. We know where we're going to go and they have to figure it out."
And then there's this convenient fact as well: Rick Carlisle continues to coach these games while adhering to his plan to limit minutes. No starter played more than Nowitzki's 31:53. Jason Terry logged a team-high 31:57. And it was a game that simply looking at the box score might suggest a Mavericks loss.
Nowitzki was 5-of-15 from the floor, yet poured in 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter with just two field goals. Kidd had three points and four assists. Terry was 4-of-12 from the floor. But, there was Haywood with 10 first-quarter points and strong defense throughout on Griffin. Vince Carter nailed two more 3-pointers and finished with 10 points. Delonte West had 10 points. Lamar Odom received more Rick Carlisle love for becoming more and more engaged.
And, Marion, what more can be said about the small forward who at times defensively swallowed up the All-Star point guard and tossed in 16 points with three assists?
"Everybody's got to get a piece of the wealth, that makes us that much more dangerous," Marion said. "When it's just one guy, it's real hard for us. When it's everybody collectively, it's amazing to watch and it's hard to stop.