Mavs hold on but 'have to play better'

DALLAS -- Hey, give the Dallas Mavericks credit for making sure the ESPN ratings didn't dip in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.

The Mavs managed to allow the lottery-bound Orlando Magic to make what seemed to be a blowout-in-the-making much more interesting than it should have been down the stretch.

Dallas survived the scrappy Magic's comeback bid to hold on for a 107-102 win at the American Airlines Center, which extended the Mavs' win streak to three games, the best among their peers in the West's playoff picture.

It just wasn't pretty.

The Mavs led by 22 early in the second half and 16 entering the fourth quarter, so coach Rick Carlisle certainly wasn't pleased to see that advantage shrink to a single point in the final minute.

"We didn't play well," Carlisle said. "I know that, and we're going to have to play better, but I'm glad we won."

Fortunately, the West standings don't factor in style points. The 44-25 Mavs sit in fifth place, 1 1/2 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers and two games behind the Houston Rockets, so Dallas' goal of home-court advantage in the first round is well within reach.

Nevertheless, smiles were in short supply in the Mavs' locker room after a sloppy performance that featured 20 turnovers -- eight by point guard Rajon Rondo, which took some shine off his nine-point, 11-assist, six-rebound outing.

"If we have careless turnovers, the end result is usually a dunk or layup on the other end," said power forward Dirk Nowitzki, who scored a game-high 25 points to make this the first time since January he's had 20-plus-point performances in consecutive games. "There's just no defense for that. If you take those 20 turnovers away, we should have had a pretty easy night."

The Mavs seemed to assume it'd be easy after taking a big lead into the final frame. But the Magic (21-49) refused to roll over and roared back with 32 points in the fourth quarter, when rookie point guard Elfrid Payton took over en route to a 15-point, 10-rebound, 12-assist triple-double.

Dallas got the defensive stops it needed in the final minute, but this was far from a feel-good victory.

"There's no reason for it to ever be that close," said small forward Chandler Parsons, who, surprisingly, sat for all but a few seconds of the final 5:26. "When we get a lead like that, we have to learn to extend the lead and keep our foot on the gas and not go for the home-run plays."

Of course, all was not lost.

In fact, nothing was lost for the Mavs, unless you believe momentum carries over on a game-to-game basis in an NBA regular season. A night after the San Antonio Spurs managed to lose to a New York Knicks squad that looks more like a D-League team, the Mavs at least left the arena with a victory.

As Rondo reminded, it wasn't too long ago that any win would have seemed like a great win for the Mavs. They'd lost three of four and seemed to be falling apart at the seams -- with Amar'e Stoudemire firmly challenging his teammates to be more professional -- before beginning this win streak.

"About a week ago, it was pretty ugly around here," Rondo said. "Now we've been winning. I'm not too down on myself or the team, as far as how the game turned out tonight. The end result is a win. We found a way to pull it out down the stretch. That's how I look at it. We didn't choke the game. We didn't give it away."