DALLAS — The uniforms could have been switched Monday night at American Airlines Center for more than three quarters and folks might not have noticed. The Blazers do a pretty passable Mavericks’ impression, and it’s by design.
The teams share a common ancestry. First-year Blazers coach Terry Stotts spent the last four years on Rick Carlisle’s staff in Dallas. Stotts called the matchup an intra-squad scrimmage, adding the Blazers run many of the plays the Mavericks run.
“But I had to change the calls,” Stotts admitted. “Can’t call them the same thing.”
Not only are both teams similar in style, employing a flow offense built around a stretch-4, but each side is dealing with a learning curve. The Blazers are in their early stages with Stotts. Carlisle’s group, even with nine new faces, has had a head start.
Advantage, the Fighting Ricks.
The Mavericks blew past Portland in the fourth quarter, spinning a close affair into a 114-91 runaway that left Portland heads on a swivel. The irony in a matchup of teams that essentially own the same playbook is that Mavericks hardly open theirs.
Carlisle has largely abandoned plays, employing an offensive strategy based on basics. “Ball move, simple pass, good shot,” he said as if spelling it out for NBA infants or sportswriters.
Sounds as easy as the shots the Mavericks seem to be getting. Dallas shot 61.5 percent against the Blazers after drilling 61.3 percent in Saturday’s blowout over Charlotte.
Anything over 50 percent in the NBA is noteworthy. Sixty percent? Ridiculous. The Mavericks had never before topped 60 percent in back-to-back games in franchise history.
“We’ve got a good rhythm in our offense right now,” Mavericks birthday boy O.J. Mayo said.
The shots have been flowing so far, even without the ball swinging through Dirk Nowitzki’s hands. Mayo was the recipient of plenty of good looks for the second straight game.
The ex-Memphis sixth man is putting up numbers that he hasn’t put up in, well, years. Mayo followed up his highest-scoring game in three years — 30 against Charlotte — with his highest-scoring game in three days.
Mayo’s 32 points against Portland included six makes on eight 3-pointers. That’s 13 of his last 18 from downtown from a guy who, Carlisle said, made several “wild forays” to the basket during a subpar preseason.
“I like how he’s playing under control,” Carlisle said. “And he’s making other guys better.”
Credit Carlisle for coaching without running a lot of plays. That’s got to be tougher than it sounds. Keeping the ball moving and finding the open man sounds nice in theory, but if it’s not as if Carlisle is just rolling the ball out there.
He called it playing “randomly” while adding that “parameters” are in place. Players must understand how to read the situation and the defense to move the ball, make the simple pass and get a good shot.
“It’s not rocket science,” Carlisle added.
Not running a set offense had spilled into the rotation. Unlike teams that for more than a decade have been built around Nowitzki, the Nowitzki-less Mavs aren’t funneling the rock to any one player or position.
“As I’ve said from the beginning of training camp, we’ve got to be a team of go-to guys,” Carlisle said. “There’s no set formula with our lineup. Some of it’s feel, some of it’s the guy who’s playing well at the time.”
And while Mayo has been the one garnering headlines the last two games, contributions are coming from several corners. Darren Collison has authored two straight point-assist double-doubles. Chris Kaman came off the bench with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting against Portland. Brandan Wright is averaging 12.3 points.
Carlisle also signaled Dominique Jones for giving the Mavs a second-half half, especially during a 10-0 game-changing run in the fourth quarter. Dallas outscored the Blazers 31-12 in the final period.
Stotts could only shake his head.
“Dallas put on a flow clinic in the second half,” he said. “The ball was moving, setting good screens, they made shots, got to the rim, and the game kind of got away from us in the middle of the fourth quarter.”
He’s seen the Mavericks do that before, but this was different as the calls he’s changed. One team tried to run its new plays Monday night. The other just played.