|Pelicans seeking strong closing act vs. Mavericks|
The Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans entered this season as young, rebuilding teams with the potential to become playoff teams.
So far the Mavericks are proving to be ahead of schedule as they visit the Pelicans, who are lagging behind, on Tuesday night.
The Mavericks are entrenched among the top teams in the Western Conference after ending the Lakers' 10-game winning streak with a 114-100 road victory Sunday. New Orleans is much closer to the bottom of the conference than to the last of the eight playoff spots.
"It's a great win that means a lot to us," said Luka Doncic, who scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half and added 10 assists and nine rebounds against L.A. "It shows that we can big teams, too. We just need to keep it rolling."
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle downplayed the significance of the win, which was his team's seventh in its past eight games.
"It means that we had a good day and did a lot of good things, but we need to stay humble," Carlisle said. "Every time we have a game like this, people are more than ever throwing their best game at us. There's a certain responsibility you have when you get on a roll like this. We need to understand it and keep our eye on the ball."
While Doncic, the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2018-19, continues to develop as one of the best young players in the NBA, the most eagerly awaited rookie in years -- Pelicans forward Zion Williamson -- has yet to play because of arthroscopic knee surgery on the eve of the season.
Williamson is expected back later this month and New Orleans battled through his injury and several others to win four out of five from Nov. 14-21.
But since then, they have lost five in a row after a 107-104 home loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The Pelicans held a five-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Chris Paul scored seven points during a pivotal 12-0 Thunder run. Just two nights earlier, the host Thunder scored the final six points to edge New Orleans 109-104.
"We just have to close games," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "Their star player made plays for them and that is what stars do, but we have to get it in the basket. What we have to do is dig ourselves out by finding a way to make plays down the stretch, to get stops down the stretch, to find a way to win a couple of these games."
Guard Lonzo Ball returned from a two-game absence due to illness and had 14 points and seven assists. He made two 3-pointers to help the Pelicans build their fourth-quarter lead.
"It's been like this all year," Ball said. "We keep talking about it and we're doing things to put us in the position to win and we're kind of giving the game away at the last three minutes. So it's stops, it's getting the best shot and just being poised down the stretch."
--Field Level Media