DALLAS – Monta Ellis spent the first decade of his career scoring a lot of points on mostly bad Golden State and Milwaukee teams. It’s too early to say whether the Mavs are a huge improvement over those outfits, but on opening night Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki sure made it look that way.
Ellis has never been known as one of the more efficient scorers in the league, but he dropped 32 points on the Atlanta Hawks in the Mavs’ 118-109 win on 11-of-17 shooting. If Nowitzki’s finally ready to pass the scoring torch to another player, Ellis is more than willing to accept. The 6-3 guard also added eight assists and four rebounds while playing a brilliant two-man game with Nowitzki.
“I just wanted to be more aggressive,” said Ellis. “Right now, I’m in a good rhythm. My teammates did a great job of finding me, setting screens and the main thing I had to do is just be aggressive, attack the basket and make the right plays.”
Nowitzki said he’s been more impressed with Ellis’ all-around game than his scoring. He was the benefactor of Ellis being able to break down the Hawks’ defense repeatedly. Nowitzki connected on 8-of-14 shots, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Last season’s shooting guard, O.J. Mayo, showed improvement at times, but he didn’t have nearly the explosion that Ellis has. When Hawks defenders tried to show on the pick-and-roll, Ellis raced past them on the way to the rim. He was amazed at how much space he had to work with. If he continues to attack like he did Wednesday, Nowitzki is going to have plenty of wide-open looks.
Ellis actually said after the game that Nowitzki would do a good job taking pressure off him to score. Perhaps Michael Finley was the last Mavs player who could make a similar statement. And for the record, Ellis sort of caught himself after that statement, adding that he hoped to take some pressure off Nowitzki, too.
The Mavs shot a sizzling 64.7 percent from the field in the first quarter, but they only led 33-28 at that point. They kept the Hawks in the game for much of the night because of too many turnovers. They finished the game with 20 turnovers, including seven from Ellis. The good news is that Ellis got most of those out of the way in the second quarter. Carlisle was effusive in his praise of Ellis, but said he has to show more discipline with the ball.
Starting point guard Jose Calderon had a rough shooting night (1-of-7), but he made up for it with 11 assists. Nowitzki, Ellis and Vince Carter (21 points) provided most of the scoring punch. This is a team that should rarely struggle on offense. Calderon is normally an excellent three-point shooter, so Wednesday was out of character for him. The Mavs will only require starting center Samuel Dalembert to focus on defense and rebounding. He led the team with nine rebounds, and he showed his athleticism on a powerful dunk off a nifty pass from Nowitzki.
“It was the twin tower connection,” he told me. “Germany to Haiti.”
The Mavs also received a strong contribution from backup center DeJuan Blair. He had nine points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. He’ll play a vital role while the Mavs await the return of Brandan Wright from an injured shoulder.
It’s impossible to know what the Mavs can be at this point, but they were able to flash some of their weapons Wednesday. And Ellis was sensational in his debut. The Hawks didn’t have any answers for him throughout the game. The trick, of course, will be to do this on a consistent basis. Late Wednesday, though, Nowitzki was just thankful for one thing.
“I told the guys we’re not going to go 0-82 this year, so that’s great,” Nowitzki joked. “It’s so early, it’s hard to see, but we’re capable of offensive nights like that and that’s good to know.”