It is late in the season, and truth be told, there is little left for the Cavaliers at this point. They are without their injured All-Star point guard, and the playoffs are not in sight.

They are playing, now, for next year. For chemistry to develop among these young players, to learn lessons of how to improve their defense and how to close out games.

In Dallas, the Mavericks are fighting and clawing, trying to squeak their way into the postseason, growing out shaggy beards until they reach .500 after a miserable start to the season.

It's understandable, then, that when it mattered most Friday night, when the third quarter came and the final buzzer drew near, the Mavericks were the team scrapping hardest. And in the end, it was the hungry Mavericks who topped the Cavaliers, 96-86, at American Airlines Center.

It happened despite an 11-point lead by the Cavaliers in the first quarter, a start so hot that rookie Tyler Zeller nearly had a double double at halftime. And it happened even with Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki failing to find his shooting touch all game.