A lineup change delivered the spark the Dallas Mavericks have desperately needed. A matchup with the struggling New York Knicks could help them sustain it.
While the Mavericks return home seeking to build on a crucial win, the Knicks enter Wednesday night's meeting attempting to put behind another puzzling loss.
Displeased with his team's effort in Sunday's embarrassing 133-111 loss at Sacramento, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle shook up the rotation by inserting Dwight Powell as the starting center and rookie Justin Anderson in place of J.J. Barea for Monday's visit to Denver. The Mavericks got the message, halting a three-game skid with a much-improved all-around performance in a 97-88 victory, just their third win in 13 contests.
Powell had a season-high 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting and Barea added 18 and 11 assists off the bench to help Dallas offset a 4-of-17 night from Dirk Nowitzki.
''I felt, right now, we've got to make the point that anything other than your best effort and your best energy is unacceptable,'' Carlisle said. ''These two guys (Powell and Anderson) you know are going to go hard, unconditionally. They delivered (Monday). We still need everybody, each game is critical."
Perhaps more encouraging was the Mavericks' work on the defensive end. After allowing the Kings to shoot 62.2 percent in Sunday's rout, Dallas forced 21 turnovers that led to 29 points while committing just four giveaways.
''We played some amazing basketball defensively,'' guard Raymond Felton said. ''The way we took care of the ball and the way we defended, we gave ourselves a good chance to fight for this (playoff) spot.''
Dallas (36-38) still sits a half-game behind rival Houston for eighth in the Western Conference. It hosts the Rockets next Wednesday after following this matchup with stops in Detroit and Minnesota.
The Mavericks stand a good chance of earning a second straight season sweep of New York (30-45) if they can duplicate Monday's defensive effort. The Knicks are 28-18 when shooting above 42 percent and 2-27 when falling below that mark.
New York shot a combined 51.5 percent and made 27 3-pointers in consecutive wins over Chicago last week, but it's gone 41.1 percent from the field in losing its last two. The Knicks missed 18 of 21 attempts during a 10-point third quarter that led to Monday's 99-91 defeat to injury-depleted New Orleans.
''We should have won this game. There's no if, ands or buts about that,'' forward Carmelo Anthony said. ''Most of the (healthy) guys on their team - no disrespect to them - they play a limited role. They play limited minutes.''
The Knicks continue to search for consistent options to complement Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis during a stretch in which they've dropped five of seven. Anthony is averaging 25.0 points and gone 16 of 35 on 3s over his last four, while Porzingis is averaging 20.8 over that span.
Porzingis had 28 points in the rookie's first encounter with Dallas on Dec. 7, but Anthony was held to 6-of-18 shooting as the Mavericks won their fourth straight over New York with a 104-97 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Deron Williams had 20 points and seven assists for Dallas but will miss a fourth straight game with an abdominal strain.
The Knicks have lost 13 of 15 visits to Dallas since 2000.