Venue: TD Garden
Dirk Nowitzki became the 24th player to reach 22,000 points in the Dallas Mavericks' latest win, their sixth straight as they continue to re-establish themselves as one of the best in the Western Conference.
In what's becoming a Hall of Fame career, Nowitzki has never been consistently better than he's been when facing the Boston Celtics.
Nowitzki's 27.3 points per game versus Boston are his most against any opponent, but the league's stingiest defensive team should provide a stiff challenge Friday night at TD Garden.
The Mavericks (33-15) lost seven of the nine games Nowitzki missed with a sore knee in late December and early January, and dropped three of four upon his return.
Suddenly, they've regained the form that allowed them to win 17 of 18 prior to Nowitzki's injury. Dallas shot 50.0 percent and outrebounded New York 54-34 while cruising to a 113-97 victory at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
The Mavericks have averaged 104.5 points during their six consecutive wins - 14.6 more than in their previous 13 games - but Nowitzki believes defense is making the difference. Dallas limited the high-scoring Knicks to 45 second-half points.
"I think our defense has been going back to where we were in November-December," said Nowitzki, who finished with 29 points. "I think if you look at our effort defensively in the second half, that's what won us the game."
His offense didn't hurt. After scoring 13 in the first half to hit exactly 22,000, Nowitzki had eight points in 2 1/2 minutes early in the third - part of a 26-6 run that gave Dallas a 24-point cushion.
"There's a guy who's worked more on developing his game (than anybody) in the history of the league," coach Rick Carlisle told the NBA's official website. "There's a reason the ball goes in the basket. He's put in the work."
The Celtics (37-11) are well aware. In addition to his career-best 27.3 points per game against Boston, his average at TD Garden - 27.7 - is his best at any venue.
Nowitzki had 37 points there in his last visit, a 99-90 Dallas win Jan. 18, 2010. He had 25 at home against the Celtics on Nov. 8 as the Mavericks shot 50.0 percent in an 89-87 victory.
Boston hasn't let any of its last 10 opponents make half their shots, a stretch in which it's gone 8-2. The Celtics have yielded 90.0 points per game in that stretch - 1.5 below their league-best average - and wrapped up a 3-1 western road trip with a 95-90 win at Sacramento on Tuesday.
Boston held the Kings to 36 second-half points as it climbed out of a nine-point hole, dug primarily when the Celtics' second unit was on the floor. The club's last eight opponents have averaged 41.1 points and shot 40.2 percent after halftime.
"Usually I have to say something at halftime. I kind of stood outside the locker room," coach Doc Rivers said. "(The starters) were upset. They weren't upset that they didn't play well, they were upset at the way they played. We don't play that way. That's not Celtic basketball. That's the great thing about having a veteran team."
While Nowitzki has thrived against the Celtics, the player picked one spot behind him in the 1998 draft has fared well versus Dallas. Paul Pierce has averaged 25.7 points in 11 matchups with the Mavericks since the start of the 2005-06 season, his most against any opponent in that span.
Boston is 16-0 against the East at home, but just 6-3 versus West opponents there.
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