Last June, they clinched their first trip to the NBA Finals in U.S. Airways Center. And on Thursday night they snapped a season-opening four game skid with a tense 119-112 victory over the Phoenix Suns, who fell to 1-5.
"I guess that's what it took was to come back here and play against a team that was kind of struggling like we were," said Dallas guard Jason Terry, who scored 30 points. "The monkey's definitely off our back now."
In a rollicking rematch of last season's Western Conference finals, Dirk Nowitzki scored 35 points and Jerry Stackhouse had 23 as the Mavericks outlasted the Suns.
This was the first meeting of the clubs since last summer's Western Conference finals, won by Dallas in six games. And it was played at the same frantic pace, with six lead changes and three ties in the final quarter. But this time the teams were motivated by desperation rather than a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Suns and Mavs entered the game with a combined 1-8 record, and both teams were last in their divisions.
If there's such a thing as a "must" win in November, this was it for the Mavs.
"It was like a playoff atmosphere," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "I know it's too early in the season to be talking about that kind of stuff, but it was two heavyweight teams.
"We just needed to feel how it feels to get a win," Johnson said.
The Suns, who have dropped four in a row, are beginning to wonder how it feels.
The slump is likely to lead to changes in coach Mike D'Antoni's rotation. Although he didn't name anyone, D'Antoni lashed out at the Suns' effort.
"We're done messing around and we're going to play guys that are going to play hard," D'Antoni said.
The Suns have given up at least 100 points in all six games this year.
"It should have been a playoff game for us," D'Antoni said. "It was for them but not for us and it should have been, which is inexcusable. We're going to figure out what is wrong and we are going to fix it."
It was Western Conference hoops at its finest, with both teams scoring at will.
The Mavs came into the game shooting 42.4 percent from the floor, 27th in the NBA. But Dallas shot 54.8 percent against Phoenix's porous defense. Phoenix shot 54.7 percent.
Early on, the Suns showed no effects of their heartbreaking 111-106 overtime loss in San Antonio the previous night, jumping out to a 19-10 lead less than five minutes into the game. But the Suns have shown a tendency to blow leads this season, and the Mavs woke up and began shooting as if it was still June.
Dallas went on a 20-2 run to take a 30-21 lead late in the first period. Terry sparked the run by scoring and drawing a foul on Barbosa. And Nowitzki fueled it with two jumpers and a three-point play.
Nowitzki had 25 points at halftime -- one shy of his season high.
The Suns had seen this Nowitzki before. He burned them for a franchise-record 50 points in Game 5 of the conference finals and led Dallas with 24 in the series clincher here.
"I wanted to be aggressive and establish myself, especially early," Nowitzki said.
Dallas surged to a 95-85 lead in the first minute of the fourth period before the Suns ran off 10 straight points to tie it at 95-95 with nine minutes left.
After the Suns tied it again at 112 on Nash's five-footer with 1:27 to go, the Mavs' Stackhouse hit two free throws.
Nash missed a fallaway jumper and Terry drained an 18-footer to put Dallas ahead by four with 32 seconds to go. An offensive foul on Amare Stoudemire ended Phoenix's comeback hopes.
The Mavs closed the game on a 7-0 run and limited the Suns to two field goals in the final 5:51.
"We talk about 'finish' all year long, man," Terry said. "Finish, finish, finish."
- Phoenix G Raja Bell missed the game with bruised ribs. He said he hopes to return for Saturday's game against Memphis. Phoenix is 0-6 without Bell.
- Starting for the second straight night, Stoudemire scored 16 points with eight rebounds in 34 minutes.
- Nash started despite nursing a strained hip.
- Arizona Cardinals Matt Leinart attended the game and sat courtside.
- Dallas has scored more than 100 points twice in its first five games while allowing more than 100 four times.