Rick Carlisle still keeps close tabs on his previous team, and the Dallas Mavericks coach thinks the Indiana Pacers are legitimate contenders.
The Pacers go for a season-high fourth straight victory Friday night when they look to win in Dallas for the first time in eight seasons.
Carlisle's stint with Indiana (15-6) from 2003-07 included a 61-win campaign his first season. He maintains a close relationship with Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird and spent two seasons coaching current star forward Danny Granger.
Indiana has not had a winning season since Carlisle's team went 44-38 in 2004-05. This edition of the Pacers is poised to end that skid, getting off to the franchise's best start since the 2003-04 team.
"They've got all the ingredients of championship teams - they've got athleticism, length, skill and size," Carlisle told the Pacers' official website. "They're going to be a major factor."
The addition of former All-Star David West to complement a frontcourt that already consisted of Granger and center Roy Hibbert has helped Indiana develop into one of the league's top defensive teams, limiting foes to 41.8 percent shooting.
"It's so great to see Larry's vision be realized because he knew this was going to take some time," Carlisle said. "He knew he was going to have to be opportunistic with acquiring veteran players to go with Granger and some of the young pieces."
Carlisle, meanwhile, was ejected from Wednesday's 95-86 home loss to Oklahoma City, picking up a second technical for kicking a ball into the stands. He apologized to owner Mark Cuban and the fans after the game.
The Mavericks (14-9) were without key players. Jason Kidd missed his third straight game with a strained right calf, starting center Brendan Haywood was out with lower back tightness and Lamar Odom was sent home with a stomach ailment.
Haywood and Odom could be back after returning to practice Thursday.
Dirk Nowitzki's struggles continued with eight points on 2-of-15 shooting. Nowitzki is averaging 9.3 points on 28.2 percent shooting in three games after a planned four-game absence to strengthen his knee and work on conditioning.
The German superstar said his knee is better than it was two weeks ago, "But sometimes I don't have enough confidence in my movement if I try to make a hard move."
Granger, meanwhile, enters after scoring a season-high 36 points in Wednesday's 109-99 victory at Minnesota. His huge effort seemed to be sparked by a skirmish with the Timberwolves' Kevin Love.
"Danny took over," Hibbert said. "When you get the Grange mad, that's what you get, you know?"
The Pacers ended a five-game losing streak to Dallas with a 102-89 home victory Jan. 12, 2011, with Nowitzki sidelined by a sore right knee. Nowitzki had 29 points on 10-of-12 shooting in a 116-108 home win over Indiana on March 4.
The Pacers are 3-1 on the road against Western Conference foes after going 2-13 last season. They have lost seven straight at Dallas since a 92-80 win Jan. 9, 2004.
"The reality is, at this point, they're one of a handful of teams that's a legit contender for a title," said Carlisle about the Pacers.