BOSTON -- One NBA rarity in recent years is an Eastern Conference team dominating the more powerful Western Conference.
The Mavs certainly are not the Warriors, and they come in for the finale of Boston's five-game homestand just 7-17 on the season. However, Rick Carlisle's Dallas team has won two straight and four of its last six.
The Mavs beat the Denver Nuggets 122-105 in an emotion-filled game Monday night at home. It was Seats for Soldiers Night, and President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were in the crowd.
The players responded.
"There was a lot of energy in the air early with all the servicemen and -women courtside, and President Bush," Carlisle said. "Our guys really felt an obligation to be their competitive best."
The Mavericks come to Boston for their annual visit -- for what might be future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki's final game at TD Garden -- having won six of their last eight games on the parquet.
However, Dallas also is running into a team that has won 21 of its last 23 games after an 0-2 start under the shock of losing Gordon Hayward for the season. The Celtics dropped the first game of the current homestand but have ridden Kyrie Irving and Al Horford's leadership and production to three straight wins.
During the new winning streak, Horford is averaging 18.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and eight assists per game, and Irving is averaging 29 points.
"When you've got guys who are willing to be as selfless as we are, then it makes everything in terms of our system work," Irving said. "Me and Al, we're pretty selfless guys, but we understand when we've got to make our mark in the game, and if we do that, whatever's needed we do."
Harrison Barnes scored 22 points and rookie Dennis Smith Jr. added 20 in the Mavs' most recent win, 122-105 over the visiting Nuggets on Monday.
"This team coming in was ranked dead last in scoring in the paint," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "They went 12 of 26 from the 3-point line with 64 points in the paint. You're not going to beat anybody when you are giving up that kind of productivity."
Nowitzki, who hasn't said for sure if he will retire at the end of the season or return to make it 20 years in the NBA, has a higher scoring average -- 25.5 points per game in 35 games -- against the Celtics than against any other team. He is also averaging 8.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game against Boston.
He isn't playing as much as he used to, but he is still averaging 11.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
In his 1,418-game career, Nowitzki has averaged 21.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor, 38.2 from 3-point range and 87.9 from the foul line.
The Mavs are 11-2 in the 13 Seats For Soldiers Night games.
"It's an honor and it gave us a big lift and we talked about playing hard and with energy for everybody that was here tonight," Nowitzki said. "I've been here for Seats For Soldiers for a long, long time, and it's always a special night. And we usually win. We honor them and thank them for their service."