Oddly enough, losing their starting point guard has been a boon to the Dallas Mavericks.
It hasn't worked out so nicely for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies, however, are coming off a badly needed victory and will visit Dallas on Friday night having already wrapped up a spot in the playoffs, where the Mavericks also appear to be headed thanks to their hot streak.
Dallas (40-38) is inching closer to clinching a postseason berth while employing a slower pace and a new defensive intensity in the absence of Deron Williams. The Mavericks lost their first two after Williams went down late last month with a left abdominal strain, part of a 7-16 stretch in which they allowed 111.5 points per game.
The ensuing five-game win streak has seen Dallas hold every opponent below 90 points while forcing an average of 17.2 turnovers. Coach Rick Carlisle's new strategy paid off again Wednesday when his team held high-scoring Houston to its lowest point total since the All-Star break in an 88-86 victory.
"I am proud of our guys for being willing to be team guys and play this way," Carlisle said. "We lived to fight another day."
The win moved the Mavericks within two games of Memphis for fifth in the Western Conference.
J.J. Barea doesn't love the new tempo but has flourished in it while replacing Williams as the floor leader. The 10-year veteran has averaged 22.3 points - double his season average - in the seven games Williams has missed. He's hit 21 of 42 from 3-point range in that span while adding 6.3 assists per game.
"I like to play fast, too, but slowing it down is working for us," Barea said after scoring 27 points Wednesday. "We've got to stay that way."
The Grizzlies haven't found anyone to step up the way Barea has.
Point man Mike Conley was lost to an Achilles injury March 6, and backup Mario Chalmers was waived a few days later after rupturing an Achilles tendon.
Briante Weber and Ray McCallum unsuccessfully tried to fill the starting job before Jordan Farmar was given a shot. He's averaging 10.4 points and 3.4 assists in eight games since being signed, far off Conley's averages.
The Grizzlies (42-36) won two of their first three after losing Conley but have since gone 3-10, including losses in seven of eight road games. However, they halted a six-game losing streak overall with a 108-92 home win over Chicago on Tuesday.
"We're just starving to get a win," coach Dave Joerger said. "Every night we just go out and compete. We're just like okay well what's the next one?"
Zach Randolph had 27 points and 10 rebounds, still trying to make up for the season-ending loss of Marc Gasol (foot). Randolph is among a bevy of veterans who have helped get Memphis into the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. That officially happened Thursday when ninth-place Houston lost to Phoenix.
"We're trying to push, we're trying to fight — one, to get it in, and two, for seeding," Farmar said. "We still believe. It's good to see nobody held their head down and kept competing."
Memphis lost the last two meetings with Dallas despite having Gasol and Conley. Dallas saw Chandler Parsons total 42 points in those games, most recently scoring 26 in a 114-110 overtime win Feb. 6, but he's undergone season-ending knee surgery.
Dirk Nowitzki accounted for 38 points in those two victories but has struggled in Carlisle's new scheme, shooting 27.4 percent and going 4 of 24 from 3-point range in the last five games.
"One of the reasons Dirk is having a hard time getting open looks is because we are playing a different style right now," Carlisle said.