Team game on high as Mavs get No. 11

DALLAS -- Jason Terry picked off a pass with 5.9 seconds left in the first half, and Caron Butler had the ball at the right wing with the clock ticking down. He could have launched a 3-pointer with a defender running at him, and no one would have thought twice about his decision.

But Butler spotted Jason Kidd wide open to his right, tossed it underneath the oncoming defender and Kidd splashed the 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 55-40 lead. Butler raised both arms in the air as the Mavs jogged off to the locker room.

It was one of four assists for Butler and one of a season-high 31 on 41 baskets for the Dallas Mavericks as they won for the 11th time in a row, 102-89, over Avery Johnson's young and struggling New Jersey Nets.

Butler's extra pass seemed to define what this win streak that started Nov. 20 has been all about: A bunch of veterans coming together under one common belief.

"It's the way our season's been going. It's the identity of our team, making the extra pass and playing unselfish basketball," said Butler, who had 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 27 minutes. "We're doing a great job, and it's rubbing off on everybody."

The team concept is in full bloom for the Mavs (18-4), but the petals nearly came off in the third quarter after the Nets turned a 21-point laugher into a five-point ballgame with 2:13 to go in the period. But yet another aggressive drive by Jason Terry, a 19-foot jumper by Dirk Nowitzki and an 18-footer from Terry put the Mavs back up 10 heading into the fourth quarter.

Yes, the Mavs again couldn't keep a bad team down on their home floor, but after the Nets' big run in the third in which they made 15-of-18 free throws to cut into the deficit, the Mavs put it out of reach again rather quickly.

Unfortunately for the Nets, they lost point guard Devin Harris to a sprained left shoulder in the first quarter after he crashed hard to the floor. They were also without third-overall pick Derrick Favors, who was out with thigh bruise.

For much of the fourth quarter, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle went with a rather odd group of J.J. Barea, Terry, Shawn Marion, Nowitzki and Ian Mahinmi.

Carlisle only reluctantly went back to foul-plagued starting center Tyson Chandlerafter Mahinmi committed a silly foul that allowed Brook Lopez to get a dunk and convert a three-point play with 4:25 to go to cut the lead to 96-84.

"We made it a little harder on ourselves there in the second half," said Nowitzki, who had 21 points on another red-hot shooting night, hitting 8-of-10. "But at this point we'll take a win and get ready for a big game Saturday."

It wasn't a thing of beauty, which seemed to at least somewhat bother Carlisle in his postgame session. He wasn't exactly thrilled that the Nets made it a game in the third quarter or that turnovers, 15 of them, cropped up again.

"I'm very happy we won. As I said, it wasn't an easy game and when you're on a streak you're going to get everybody's best game," Carlisle said. "Right now it's all about continuing to study ourselves and making sure we know what's going on with the next opponent coming in."

The fourth quarter belonged to Barea. He notched a career high with 13 assists and allowed Kidd to sit the entire fourth quarter, an important factor with the Utah Jazz, as Nowitzki and Carlisle alluded to, coming to town Saturday for a rematch. The Mavs snapped the Jazz's seven-game win streak last Friday in Salt Lake City. The Jazz will be completing a tough back-to-back with a home game Friday night against the Orlando Magic.

Barea was doling out dimes to just about everyone. He made a no-look pass to Mahinmi for a slam dunk with 7:02 to play, and his final assist of the night appropriately went to Shawn Marion for a layup. Marion continued his terrific play with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He made his first six shots and had 14 points at halftime.

Marion added six rebounds and four steals for another complete effort. It wasn't always pretty or easy, but the Mavs continue to display an all-around team game, which is pleasing as the wins mount.

"It's great ball movement, that's what we need," Marion said. "The more we move the ball and and help each other, the harder it is for [the opponent] to guard us. You've got to learn from every game, take positives and negatives from it. But ain't nobody going to go out and play a perfect game, but you have to learn from it and try not to make certain things happen and try to build off it."