Slump busted? Carter finds his groove

NEW ORLEANS -- Welcome back, Vince Carter.

His jump shot can be taken off the back of all of those milk cartons.

The Dallas Mavericks’ sixth man busted out of a nasty slump with the kind of performance his teammates are counting on with more consistency, scoring 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting in Dallas’ 100-97 win Wednesday night over the New Orleans Pelicans.

A 15-point performance should be just about the norm for Carter, but it’s newsworthy now because he has been struggling so much. He averaged only 8.8 points while shooting an awful 30.2 percent from the floor in the previous five games.

"But he’s stayed with it," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Even if there have been some tough shooting nights, his attitude has stayed the same. He’s upbeat. He’s upbeat with the guys. He’s still working hard, and tonight it paid off."

This is the Carter the Mavs need.

Carter is 36 years old and in his 16th season, so it was only natural to wonder whether time had finally crept up on him during his slow start this season.

However, Carter insists his body feels great despite an early Dallas schedule heavy with back-to-back games. He’s disciplined with his diet, stretching and icing regimens, and Carter gets so much precautionary treatment that teammates give him flak about hogging the trainer’s table.

His legs weren’t the issue. Neither were his mechanics. Carter studied film of his shot and saw nothing wrong other than the results. So he tried not to stress, figuring it was a matter of time before they started dropping again.

That time came Wednesday night, when Carter knocked down three of four 3-point attempts and also contributed five rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes.

"I tell you what: Every time I shoot it, I shoot it like, 'Hey, it’s going in,'" Carter said. "I think that’s what bothers me sometimes, because it doesn’t go in, but I think it’s going to go in. But that’s just the way I think.

"I put the pressure on myself to make shots. I know you’re not going to make them all, but the mentality has to stay there. I continued to have that type of mentality to shoot the ball with confidence, not shoot the ball like, 'Ah, maybe it'll go in or not.' I refuse to let myself get into that mode."

Once Carter gets a couple to go down, he thinks he’s in a groove. He doesn’t have the same lift from his days as an eight-time All-Star, but his belief in his game hasn't wavered.

Nor has the Mavs’ belief in Carter, even while he struggled. Carlisle has gone so far as to call Carter part of the Mavs’ big three, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. That’s going a bit too far, but there’s no question that Dallas is depending on Carter to provide them with a third quality scoring threat.

"He’s obviously a big key to our offense," said Nowitzki, who led the Mavs with 21 points in Wednesday’s win. "With Monta attacking a lot, I’m attacking a lot, but sometimes, we need another guy who can make plays for himself, and Vince is that guy.

"We need his scoring off the bench, and he was great tonight."

The Mavs hope that’s the end of one trend and the beginning of another.