Dirk Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks teammates pledged earlier this season not to shave until the team returned to the .500 mark.
The Mavericks are close to getting their razors ready and will try to even their record for the first time in 3 1/2 months with Thursday night's visit from a surging Indiana Pacers team that's approaching full health.
With nine wins in the last 12 contests, Dallas is now within one game of .500 for the first time since it was 11-11 on Dec. 12. The Mavericks (35-36) are also making a considerable push for a 13th consecutive playoff berth, now sitting just 1 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers after beginning March five games out of postseason position.
"We've been fighting to get to (.500). I feel like we're playing our basketball. The boys are playing well and better off each other," Nowitzki said. "It's a good time to play your best basketball. We'll see how far we can take it.
"I'm ready to get this (beard) off. It's a big outing for us Thursday against a very tough team. That'll be a big game for us."
Beating Indiana would give the Mavericks their longest home winning streak of the season at four. Dallas improved to 3-1 on its six-game homestand Tuesday with a 109-102 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nowitzki had eight of his season-high 33 points in the extra period, and was among six Dallas players to score in double figures.
"We've got to find a way to win those close games. We've been doing a lot better the last two weeks or so," Nowitzki said. "We've found a decent mixture the last couple of weeks of leadership and playing well together. Hopefully, we can keep it up."
The Pacers (45-27) haven't had David West for the last six games due to a sprained lower back, but they earned their fifth win in that stretch Wednesday, 100-91 in Houston, behind Roy Hibbert's season-high 28 points and 13 rebounds.
"This was Roy Hibbert's best overall game," coach Frank Vogel said. "And with David West out, we needed him to score more and be more of a post presence and he was terrific on the offensive end as well."
Hibbert may not have to do nearly as much Thursday. West is expected to return against the Mavericks as is Danny Granger, who has missed all but five games this season but should be available to come off the bench down the stretch.
West had 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting and Paul George scored 30 in the most recent visit to Dallas, a 98-87 win on Feb. 3, 2012. The victory snapped the Pacers' seven-game skid at the American Airlines Center.
Nowitzki had 30 points in the loss and is averaging 27.4 over his last 14 matchups with Indiana, his best performance against any opponent since the beginning of the 2004-05 season. He didn't played in the Pacers' 103-83 win on Nov. 16 in Indianapolis.
Lance Stephenson was one of six Pacers in double figures in that contest, finishing with 12, and he had a season-high 21 points Wednesday after missing a game with a strained hip flexor.
The win in Houston kept Indiana five games ahead of Chicago in the Central Division and tied with New York for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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