While a second consecutive loss surely left the Dallas Mavericks disappointed, they seemed to take solace in watching reigning NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki finally round back into form.
With Nowitzki looking to build on his highest scoring output of the season, the Mavericks try to get back on track as they open a three-game road swing Saturday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Two nights following a 95-86 defeat to NBA-leading Oklahoma City, Dallas (14-10) fell 98-87 to surging Indiana on Friday. It wasn't all bad news for the Mavericks, though, as Nowitzki came up big after struggling since returning from injury.
After recording a combined 28 points while shooting 28.2 percent from the floor in his first three games since a planned four-game absence to strengthen his sore right knee, Nowitzki scored 30 on 12-of-17 shooting versus the Pacers.
"I had some good looks and knocked them down. I finally got into a good rhythm. The strength in my legs is coming back. Hard work always pays off," said Nowitzki, averaging just 16.9 points this season - significantly lower than his career mark of 22.8.
While the Mavericks dropped to 1-5 when Nowitzki scores more than 20 points, they were more than thrilled to see him looking like his former self.
"Every day he's moving better. At some point, this kind of game was going to be a reality," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It was great to see because he was doing everything. He was shooting the ball, he was driving the ball, rebounding. Overall, he was very active. Very positive."
Nowitzki now looks for his momentum to carry over versus Cleveland (8-13), which lost for the seventh time in nine games with Friday's 102-94 defeat at Orlando. After trailing by as many as 21 points, the Cavaliers cut the lead to five with 2:12 to play but couldn't complete the comeback despite a season-best 41 points in the fourth quarter.
"I wish we could put the first three quarters together like we did the fourth," coach Byron Scott said. "We couldn't throw the ball in the ocean for the first three quarters. It was tough.
"I don't know what we have to do as far as trying to bring that same rhythm that we have in the fourth quarter to the first quarter, but we'll figure it out."
Kyrie Irving, the first overall pick in June's draft, made just 7 of 21 shots and finished with 18 points. While he's put up 23.5 points per contest on 50.7 percent shooting over a four-game stretch, Cleveland has prevailed just once during that span.
After posting a season-high 20 points and career-best 20 rebounds in Tuesday's 93-90 loss to Boston, Anderson Varejao had 12 and 15, respectively, Friday. He is averaging 16.7 points over his last three games - 6.2 more than his season mark.
The Cavaliers have dropped three straight in the series, losing both meetings last season. After falling 104-95 at home Jan. 2, 2011, Cleveland hung around before suffering a 99-96 defeat in Dallas last Feb. 7. An injured Nowitzki was held out of that first matchup, and he scored just 12 points in the second.
Dallas' Jason Kidd is likely to miss his fifth consecutive game due to a strained right calf. He could be back Wednesday at Denver.
Cleveland, meanwhile, was without Daniel Gibson (soft tissue infection in neck), Anthony Parker (back strain) and rookie Tristan Thompson (ankle sprain) on Friday. It's unknown if they will be available in this one.