Mavs beat East bullies, head to break

This looked like a loss for the Dallas Mavericks the day the NBA schedule was released.

It ended up being the Mavs' most inspirational win -- albeit the least aesthetically pleasing -- of the season so far.

It's tough to play on the home floor of the team with the league's best record under any circumstances. It's even more challenging when it's the second game of a back-to-back. And it's a brutal challenge when you were routed by the Charlotte Bobcats the previous night.

None of that mattered to the Mavs on Wednesday night, when they proved they're capable of beating an elite team with grit and guts by walking out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse with an 81-73 win over the Indiana Pacers. Acing a gut-check to go 10 games over .500 is a heck of a way to head into the All-Star break.

"If you look at the whole situation -- us back-to-back, them waiting and all that kind of stuff -- this is a big win for us," coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. "It really is. We needed it, because we had built up good momentum and seemingly last night we just let everything blow to smithereens. And this shows that the guys understand the importance of playing together and playing tough and playing for each other."

The biggest knock on this edition of the Mavs is that it isn't a team built to play tough. The roster is loaded with offensive weapons and light on defenders and dirty-work dudes.

Well, you can't beat the Pacers by playing pretty. That just doesn't work against the NBA's top-ranked defensive team.

A Dallas team that was determined to prove that the five-game winning streak snapped in Charlotte wasn't just fool's gold didn't back down against the East's biggest bullies. They traded pushes and shoves and elbows all night with the Pacers and won the 15-round fight.

"It was probably the most physical game I've been in in a long time," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 18 points and made it clear to old pal David West that the Mavs weren't going to be intimidated. "Usually we win when we outscore people. But tonight we showed we could win a different way."

The Mavs managed to win despite shooting only 35.7 percent from the field. To put that into perspective, it had happened only five previous times during Nowitzki's career, and not since January 2011.

That's impossible without a defensive effort that was the complete opposite of Tuesday night's debacle against the Bobcats. The Pacers' point total was the lowest allowed by the Mavs in almost two years. Indiana shot a season-low 32.1 percent from the field.

Pacers superstar Paul George made only four of 17 shots, a tribute to Shawn Marion's individual work and the Mavs' five-men-on-a-string help defense. All-Star center Roy Hibbert was held to four points with Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair and Brandan Wright all getting turns battling the beast on the blocks.

The Dallas defense was at its best down the stretch, as Monta Ellis' 11 points in the fourth quarter matched the Pacers' total.

"We already know if we play like this defensively, help each other, we can play with any team in the league," Ellis said on the Mavs' TV broadcast after stuffing the box score with 23 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal.

The Mavs have proof now, and a reason to puff their chests out with pride during the All-Star break.