Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER--New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams talks to referee Tony Brown as Utah's Trevor Booker watches Tuesday night in New Orleans.

The Dallas Mavericks have a Hall of Fame power forward in Dirk Nowitzki, who took less pay to help make his team competitive.

The Mavericks have excellent depth, a shot-blocking center and a player in his prime, guard Monta’ Ellis, who can score when the game is on the line.

However, at 19-8 heading into Saturday night’s games, the Mavericks were just in fifth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, third in the super-stacked Southwest Division in which every team is in a playoff position. And, they were 0-5 against Western teams who made the playoffs last season.

In making Thursday’s trade that brought Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics, the Mavs, who won the 2011 NBA title with Nowitzki and center Tyson Chandler as anchors, added the one ingredient they hope will put them over the top.

“Those guys probably feel like they have something similar to what they had when they won it — true point guard who can distribute the ball,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said.

Of the teams manning the West’s eight playoff positions, seven have top-notch or very good point guards. Rondo immediately gives Dallas what it didn’t have and the rest of the contenders have. A four-time All-Star, he is one of the best point guards in the game, Williams said. He also is a good defensive player who rebounds.

When the Mavericks won the title, aging Jason Kidd was the point guard. Rondo is similar in style.

Dallas traded point guard Jameer Nelson to Boston. Nelson, a good shooter who flourishes in the pick-and- roll, fits better with a more offensively dominating low-post center than Chandler. And, with him in the backcourt, Ellis was the primary ball-handler. Rondo will free Ellis to run around picks and focus more on scoring.

The Mavs also sent to Boston some players who helped make them a deep team — power forward Brendan Wright, who gives them length at the rim and small forward Jae Crowder — along with a protected first-round pick, a second-round pick and a $12.9 million trade exception.

“It’s not like Dallas needed more help,” Williams said. “They feel like it’s a good trade for them, but they gave up a really good young big — Brandan Wright — that I thought is a good player.

“So, in order to get a guy like Rondo, you’ve got to give something up.”

Going fourth

Until last week, the Pelicans had a trend that had a negative impact on their record.

New Orleans was 0-8 when it trailed entering the fourth quarter. If the Pelicans’ past two games are any indication, they may have fixed that, however.

After trailing 89-78 at the end of the third quarter against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, the Pelicans outscored them 41-22 in the fourth to win 119-111. Then, at Houston on Thursday, New Orleans was behind 75-68 after a 25-foot 3-point shot by Troy Daniels at the end of the third that seemed to give the Rockets the momemtum. However, the Pelcans outscored them in the fourth 34-22.

“Our defense in the fourth quarter has been better,” Williams said. “I thought we defended well in the fourth quarter against Golden State (on Dec. 14), holding that team to 22 points in the fourth, even though we didn’t win.”

“We just feel more in the moment,” Anthony Davis said. “We know that our defense will win the game for us, especially with the game on the line, and coach is always reminding us of that.”

Veteran voice

Except for back-to-back games in which he scored nine points in each, John Salmons has not contributed much to the Pelicans this season, certainly not as much as was expected when he was signed last summer to compete for the starting small forward job.

However, Salmons, quiet and thoughtful, may have given the Pelicans a pearl of wisdom that could help them the rest of the season as they seek to earn a playoff berth.

The Pelicans were nearly being run off the court by lowly Utah on Tuesday. In the locker room, Williams made his halftime adjustments.

Salmons, a 13-year veteran, spoke up.

“He said ‘These are the games you look at when the season’s over and you’ve missed out on a playoff berth,’ ” backup guard Austin Rivers said. “‘I’ve played on teams where you go back and say, we should have had this game, we should have had that game. You have to win theses games like this, especially at home.’ ”

Christmas spirit

Pelicans guard Eric Gordon gave 50 children new bicycles on Friday at the Boys and Girls Club-West Bank.

Each child got a bicycle, a safety helmet, a ticket to a Pelicans game and a poster of Gordon.

Malone gone

It was a surprise when the Sacramento Kings jumped out to a 9-5 record this season, battling well with center DeMarcus Cousins, one of a number of players who followed their World Cup experience with a good start to the season.

However, on Tuesday, it perhaps was just as surprising when coach Mike Malone was fired, with the Kings’ record having tumbled after Cousins was afflicted with viral meningitis.

Malone was on Williams’ staff in New Orleans during the 2011-12 season.

“Michael is a good coach, and not just a good defensive coach,” Williams said. “He had them winning, and he was doing a good job with DeMarcus.”

Cousins, known as a very temperamental player, had begun to do a good job reining in his emotions. That was clear during the World Cup tournament. However, it had started last season, after Cousins was ejected against the Houston Rockets, a game Sacramento was winning because he was outplaying Dwight Howard.

Malone talked to him at length after that.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who advocated the team play four-on-five basketball with a player out front waiting to make snow birds, said he wanted to see a more exciting, fast-break brand of basketball. However, the team’s current personnel, which Malone largely inherited, is built more for half-court execution with some fast breaks off steals mixed in.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr said he thought the firing was ridiculous, particularly this early in the season and after Sacramento had gotten off to such a promising start.

“It’s Michael Malone’s fault that DeMarcus Cousins got viral meningitis?” Kerr asked.