Vince Carter bounces back, passes Elgin Baylor

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Passing Elgin Baylor on the NBA’s all-time scoring list wasn’t even the last thing on Vince Carter’s mind when he arrived at Sleep Train Arena on Sunday afternoon.

That’s because Carter, who has 23,152 points after scoring 17 in the Dallas Mavericks’ 93-91 win over the Sacramento Kings, wasn’t even aware that it was a possibility.

“They don’t tell me these things,” said Carter, who bumped Baylor down a spot and moved to 26th on the list with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:54 remaining.

It wouldn’t have mattered if Carter would have been aware that he was nearing the milestone. He spent the previous day and a half thinking about the zero points he scored in Friday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, not the thousands of buckets he’s made in his 16-year career.

The Mavs beat the Lakers despite Carter’s 0-of-8 shooting night, but his poor outing still bothered him. He felt he had to make it up to the Mavs, who are in a three-way scrap with the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns for the West’s last two playoff spots.

After some extra pregame shooting, Carter was 6-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-9 from 3-point range, including triples on two straight possessions in the fourth quarter to give the Mavs the lead for good.

The Mavs’ sixth man will sleep much better Sunday night in Salt Lake City than he did Saturday in Sacramento.

“What made it so painful was that we had a day in between,” Carter said Sunday evening, still thinking about his stinker two days earlier. “We had an off day, so I had all day to sit there and think about it. I didn’t really care about sports yesterday, but I couldn’t wait to get to the gym. I almost went to the gym yesterday, but I figured I’d drive myself crazy and be there for three or four hours or something like that.

“Early in the day, I got up and thought about it. Is it mechanics? It’s just a rough night. All of them felt good. Just old age probably, no legs. I chalked it up to that. Let me live. That’s what I’m thinking. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thinking I’m old, I was tired.

“So I got here early today and got some shots up. It’s not changing anything. It’s just repetition. I just wanted to get some shots and see it go in. Once I saw it go in, I felt confident again.”

The Mavs’ confidence in Carter, the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game, never wavers. He’s been one of the league’s best bench scorers since willingly making the transition from lifelong starter to sixth man last season.

That eagerness to put his ego aside and accept a reserve role earned Carter a ton of respect in the Mavs’ organization.

“He’s a surefire Hall of Fame player simply by virtue of the fact that he’s an eight-time All-Star,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t think there’s ever been an eight-time All-Star who hasn’t gone to the Hall of Fame. But if you factor in the way he’s reinvented himself late in his career, to be a part of a team that’s winning, that’s got a chance to go to the playoffs and he’s just kind of redefined and reinvented who he is, it’s more credibility for his overall career. I’m a big fan.”

Carter became famous as for his above-the-rim acrobatics during his early NBA days as “Half-Man, Half-Amazing,” following in the 40-inch-high footsteps of high-fliers such as Baylor. At 37 years old, Carter still flashes occasional bursts of awesome athleticism, but his game relies much more on shooting touch and savvy at this point of his career.

The Mavs ask Carter to do a little bit of everything offensively, including initiating the pick-and-roll and posting up. But he’s most valuable as a perimeter shooter, knocking down 39.5 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.

“Vince is instant offense,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had a rough day of his own against the Kings, scoring only 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting. “Every good team needs punch off the bench. Your starters can only do so much in an 82-game schedule. You need the bench to come through a lot of nights, and he’s been consistent.”

When Carter doesn’t deliver, he’s determined to make up for it. That means more than milestones, as big of an honor as it is for him to pass Baylor.