DALLAS -- Even on the nights when Dirk Nowitzki wears a cape, he still needs a star sidekick.
That’s why Nowitzki’s 34-point performance wasn’t the primary subject of discussion Friday night after the Mavericks’ 107-103 win over the Sacramento Kings, a victory that kept the Mavs a half-game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth place in the Western Conference standings. The buzz was about Monta Ellis busting out of a minislump with a 20-point, zero-turnover outing that actually included a lot of lockdown defense.
"I thought Ellis played probably his best all-around game of the season," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.
If not for Ellis, Nowitzki’s best groove of said season would have been wasted for the second consecutive game.
This is the first time since April 2012 that Nowitzki, the Mavs' lone All-Star, has had back-to-back 30-plus-point performances. His 38-point, 17-rebound gem Wednesday night wasn’t enough to lead the Mavs to a win over the Houston Rockets.
Dallas was in serious jeopardy of losing to a sorry Sacramento team despite Nowitzki lighting it up again, falling down by as many as 14 points in the third quarter. But Ellis, who was coming off a six-point, four-turnover stinker against Houston, in which he performed horribly on defense, came alive at just the right time.
Sixteen of Ellis’ 20 points against the Kings came in the final 16 minutes, 5 seconds. He had nine points in the final 3:32, starting with a couple of tiebreaking free throws and highlighted by a 15-foot pull-up off a pick-and-roll and an and-1 layup off a great cut and beautiful, 40-foot feed from Vince Carter.
"I was picking my spots," said Ellis, who was 6-of-10 from the floor and dished out three assists in his first turnover-free game since Dec. 5, 2012. "I was more aggressive in getting to what the defense was playing me."
Nowitzki corrected a reporter who mentioned that Ellis played poorly before heating up offensively, stressing that Ellis' floor game was good all night long. Carlisle praised the patience and discipline of Ellis, who had committed 22 turnovers in the previous four games.
"It was one of those nights where he could have easily gotten frustrated, but he didn’t," Carlisle said. "He just kept playing the whole game, and it came around."
Carlisle, who ripped all of the Mavs for their "embarrassing" defensive effort against the Rockets, went out of his way to gush about how well Ellis guarded against the Kings. Sacramento shooting guard Marcus Thornton, who had a 42-point performance against the Indiana Pacers last week, scored only nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.
"You guys point to his offense -- and he was struggling defensively, too, as were most of the other guys on the team," Carlisle said. "Tonight, his defense was spectacular. He was in the right place. The guys he was guarding, I don’t know if they scored any points at all, maybe a few here and there. He was great there."
Nowitzki, meanwhile, is in the midst of maybe his best hot streak since the Mavs’ 2011 title run. He has 100 points on 61 percent shooting in the three games on this homestand, crediting his success to a less hectic schedule, some anti-inflammatories and work with longtime mentor Holger Geschwindner.
"I wasn’t really in a good groove there on the East Coast," Nowitzki said, referring to the Mavs’ recent road trip, during which he sat out a loss in Toronto because of wear and tear. "We had too many games [and] I felt a little sluggish, but we had some days off here. We’re working smartly with Holger here and there. It’s been good, feel good and, hopefully, I’m going to keep going.
"Obviously, with the way we’re playing, we need every single point."
And they need Ellis to be on point every single night. His response to Carlisle’s praise about his all-around performance was exactly right.
"Hopefully, we can have more of them consistently," Ellis said.
That had better be the case. The Mavs can’t make the playoffs with Nowitzki as the lone star.