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AP - Sports

The Nets are assured of reaching the season's midway point with a losing record, though the NBA's best mark in January has created plenty of optimism in Brooklyn.

With benchmark game No. 41 against the visiting Dallas Mavericks on Friday, the Nets will try for their ninth win in 10 games since the calendar turned to 2014.

"It's a sign that we're showing consistency with what we're trying to do around here," Nets forward Paul Pierce said after Tuesday's 101-90 victory over Orlando.

The Nets (18-22) used a 27-14 third-quarter scoring advantage to pull away and win their sixth straight at home and second game in two nights after going 1-6 in their first seven contests that closed a back-to-back.

"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 (coach Jason Kidd) wants out of us, night in, night out, a consistent effort. That's what we're trying to do, especially in back-to-backs."

Pierce and Joe Johnson were the only starters in double figures with 13 points apiece, while Andray Blatche (18 points) and Mirza Teletovic (14) led the way off the bench. The 6-foot-11 Blatche is averaging 19.0 points in his last three games, while Johnson is scoring 22.9 over his last seven.

Point guard Deron Williams came off the bench for the second straight game after returning from a five-game absence due to an ankle injury. Kidd's team is now 6-0 with the starting five of Pierce, Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston.

Brooklyn has held opponents under 100 points in eight of nine, giving up 92.2 points per game in that span - 10.2 less than it allowed during a 10-21 start.

"Defense," Livingston told the team's official website. "That's where we set our tone; it's what we've been trying to hang our hat on."

Dallas (25-19) fell 93-85 at Toronto on Wednesday with leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki (21.1 ppg) getting the night off as the team played for the 11th time in 18 days.

"It was just the right thing to do, the right thing for him, for the organization," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He needed a day to rest."

Nowitzki will play Friday with the Mavs looking to bounce back from two losses in three games. Without him, the Mavericks turned the ball over 21 times and blew a 21-point first-quarter lead against the Raptors.

"Very frustrating," said Vince Carter, who had eight points against his former team. "This is a game we should have won, regardless of whether Dirk was on the floor or not."

Monta Ellis scored a team-high 21 points but turned the ball over a season-high eight times. He'll look to correct that as Dallas tries to complete a three-game road swing against the Eastern Conference on a positive note.

In the first two contests on the trip, the Mavs held Cleveland and the Raptors to 41.4 percent shooting, but they've been outscored in the second half by 30 points.

"We couldn't match their intensity in the second half," point guard Jose Calderon said. "Then they made their run and we couldn't keep up with that."

The Nets and Mavericks split last season's two-game series with the road team winning each. Williams averaged 27.5 points in those meetings.

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