The Dallas Mavericks are a team struggling to remain relevant, while the Hawks are attempting to climb from the No. 5 spot in the East to the top tier of the conference.
But the Mavs dismantled the Hawks, 127-113, with waves of offense: Darren Collison coming off the Mavs' bench to score 18 of his game-high 24 points in the first half; Vince Carter joining him with 13 points, allowing him to exceed 22,000 for his career; Dirk Nowitzki putting up his most balanced line in over a year; and Dallas scoring a season-best 127 points.
"It was a defensive pillow fight,'' Carlisle said. "Neither team got much traction defensively. Sometimes, games are like that. When they are, you have to ring the bell and put points on the board."
Dallas' work was an embarrassment for the Hawks, who surrendered season highs in total points (127), points allowed in a half (68 in the first), opponent field goals made (51-for-89, 57.3 percent) and opponent assists allowed (33).
The Mavs' 68 first-half points is the most in the NBA this season on the second night of a back-to-back. That means this blowout happened from the start -- and it kept coming, with Collison shooting 10-for-14 as one of nine Dallas players shooting 50 percent or better.
Nowitzki had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists. The last time he has six boards and five assists while also scoring this many points? April 2012.
The 32-35 Mavs are now in 10th place (thanks to a Portland loss) and are chasing Utah (in ninth) and the Lakers (in eighth, who lost Monday against the Suns with Kobe missing.)
"We still believe,'' said Collison, the leader of a 61-point scoring flood from the bench. "We still believe that we can make it [to the playoffs]. There's no quit in us. We believe that in every game from here on out we can get a win."
As always, feeding an efficient Dirk is the smartest path toward that goal. The biggest news regarding Dirk here is the Mavs' focus on making certain he got touches. On Sunday in a loss to OKC, Nowitzki didn't get to shoot at all in the final quarter, and took his final shot of the game with 2:25 remaining in the third. That's 14 Dirk-less minutes. That's a formula for failure.
It's a mistake that wasn't repeated in Atlanta.
"It was a great offensive night for us," Nowitzki said. "We were running, we were shooting the ball and sharing the ball, and it was fun to play. The only problem was the other end of the ball. We couldn't get a stop to save our lives. ... I don't think we're happy with the defensive outing, but offensively this is about as good as we've played all year."
The Mavs opened the fourth with a 98-85 lead. Would they go away from Dirk? Not this time. The first Mavs shot of the fourth? Dirk took it at the 11:42 mark. The first score? Dirk got points from the line at 11:13. The first field goal? Dirk again, this time from 3 at 10:27.
That 3 made it 103-87, and when you added it up, it meant three of the first four possessions of the fourth resulted in Dirk shooting the ball.
When Dirk is handling 75 percent of the start-of-the-fourth shots, these Mavs are exponentially more difficult to stop ...
Especially if the other team is playing "pillow-fight'' defense.