Preview: Mavericks at Nets

By The Sports Xchange
POSTED: 10:58 PM MST Jan 23, 2014    UPDATED: 10:58 PM MST Jan 23, 2014 

After being huge disappointments over the first two months of the season, the Brooklyn Nets are now the hottest team in the league entering Friday's home contest against the Dallas Mavericks. The Nets are an NBA-best 8-1 in January and have won their last three games and are suddenly just four games below .500 as well as bona fide playoff contenders in the weak Eastern Conference. The Mavericks have lost three of their last five games and are concluding a three-game road swing.Standout forward Dirk Nowitzki will be back in the lineup after sitting out Wednesday's loss to the Toronto Raptors. Dallas led by as many as 21 before blowing the lead - it marks the fifth time the Mavericks have lost after leading by 17 or more - but coach Rick Carlisle refused to question the timing of resting the veteran. "It was just the right thing to do, the right thing for him and for the organization," Carlisle said afterward. "He needed a day to rest." The Nets have held the opponent under 100 points in eight of the past nine games.TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Southwest (Dallas), YES (Brooklyn)ABOUT THE MAVERICKS (25-19): The collapse against Toronto continues a season-long trend in which Dallas struggles to hold large leads, and veteran Vince Carter is troubled by the situation. "I think we just have to zero in on staying focused, staying the course and continuing to do what got us to that point," Carter said after the loss. "I think that sometimes we get comfortable and we're still learning how to win. It's very frustrating. This is a game that we should have won regardless of if Dirk was on the floor or not."ABOUT THE NETS (18-22): First-year coach Jason Kidd is becoming more comfortable running the team and the players are deciphering what he's preaching as the season has taken a strong upward turn. Point guard Deron Williams and forward Paul Pierce both cited a better approach coming out of halftime as a huge factor in January's success. "We're not only winning but we're pretty convincingly turning it on in the third quarter with the defense, the way we're moving the ball," Pierce said. "That's what we want. That's all (Kidd) wants out of us - night-in, night-out - a consistent effort."BUZZER BEATERS 1. Dallas has won 20 of the last 25 meetings.2. The Nets have won six consecutive home games dating back to a Christmas Day loss to the Chicago Bulls.3. The Mavericks are 17-4 when holding opponents under 100 points.PREDICTION: Nets 99, Mavericks 94