Before the Mavs-at-Lakers season-opening tipoff on Tuesday, Dallas GM Donnie Nelson said the goal ‘is to protect the hill until our Big German (injured Dirk Nowitzki) cannon is back in our arsenal.’
Then the Mavs won 99-91, followed by this tweet from Nowitzki: ‘1-and-0. As expected. On to the next one.’
For one night, at least, the hill is protected. The hill is owned. The Dirk-less Mavs are the king of the hill.
An “expected victory” for the Dallas Mavericks?
That’s really not the way most foresaw this one. Don’t believe that Dirk — sitting at home with his surgical-repaired knee elevated on the ottoman — viewed it that way, either.
But sometimes, David slays Goliath. And when he does, David supporters get to celebrate. For the Mavs, it will be a short-lived party as they travel to Utah for the second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday night.
Things might change quickly. There’s no idea what Dallas will do in the “bad city” of Utah. But this victory was a triumph for unity, coaching and “protecting the hill” against a home-standing Lakers team that many think will run away with the West.
“There’s some new sheriffs in town,” said O.J. Mayo, reflecting on the new-look Mavs (featuring nine unfamiliar faces), who ended a six-game losing skid to LA.
Despite missing starters Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, and with the Lakers playing at full strength, the Mavericks somehow pulled out a comfy win on opening night. While it’s not certain these Mavs are “sheriffs” or “cannons,” they certainly found a way to create some “buzz” where there once was a void.
The hard-core Mavs fan is celebrating the fact that Dallas enjoyed six players in double figures. Led by new Mav Darren Collison’s 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting with four assists and three steals, the Mavericks were simply more cohesive than the newly-assembled, star-studded Lakers.
That includes a solid night from second-round rookie Jae Crowder, subbing for Dirk. It even includes Roddy Beaubois, seemingly a persona non grata as a point guard just 24 hours ago, and just-signed center Eddy Curry, who was a key contributor having just returned from hoops limbo with just 24 NBA games since the 2008-09 season.
The Mavericks received 14 points from Brandan Wright — the starter at center, taking on Dwight Howard and the most muscular challenge in the NBA — and 12 from Mayo, 11 from Shawn Marion and eight and a team-high 11 rebounds from new defensive anchor Elton Brand.
The Lakers were led by Pau Gasol’s 23 points, while Kobe Bryant added 22. New Lakers Steve Nash and Howard added seven points and four assists and 19 points, 10 rebounds, respectively.
But with those star-studded names — Dallas coach Rick Carlisle suggests LA employs four future Hall-of-Famers — Los Angeles seemed behind Dallas in terms of desire, tempo and the all-important ability to assimilating new pieces.
To illustrate the depth of the Mavericks’ effort: up until garbage time, no Dallas player who’d seen the floor had a negative plus/minus.
Without its starting frontcourt, Dallas secured 31 defensive rebounds and managed to keep within range of the Lakers on the boards, surrendering a 40-to-46 edge to LA.
The Mavericks’ ball-movement and overall basketball IQ — like rebounding major concerns heading into the season — were a non-issue. Plus, expert passing and awareness of teammates led to 22 assists on 40 made baskets for the Mavs.
Furthermore, Dallas only surrendered 12 turnovers and made up for most of its miscues with nine steals.
Yes, it is only one game, and an early one at that, but for one night at least, the Mavericks look far ahead of schedule. Certainly, there’s still plenty of work to do. That said, few would have predicted such an ownership of “the hill” and such a comfortable season-opening win.
Few, that is, unless one believes the “expected win” call from the Big German cannon.