Shorthanded Mavericks win third straight game

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks starters? With three top forwards out, average age of 25.4. A Mavs finisher? Talk-of-Toronto Vince Carter, age 35 with 17 highlight-reel points off the bench. The Mavs’ accomplishment? A 109-104 win Wednesday at the American Airlines Center over the visiting Raptors that gives Dallas its best-since-2007 season start at 4-1.

No forward Dirk Nowitzki for at least a month while he recovers from knee surgery. OK, well, luckily for the Mavericks, they signed a former All-Star forward as his backup. Ah, but Elton Brand needed to miss Wednesday’s game because of the birth of his child. Fair enough. That’s when it comes in handy to have one of the league’s most versatile players, forward Shawn Marion. Oh, you mean the same guy who sprained his MCL and is expected to miss at least three games?

Needless to say, the Mavericks came into their Wednesday night game against the Raptors without their full arsenal of weapons.

No forwards? They move forward, anyway.

Winning while shorthanded is “definitely a positive for us, having Dirk out, Shawn going out, and we have to pull it together,” said O.J. Mayo, with 22 points total after back-to-back 30-plus games. “I guess we’re maybe proving the naysayers a little wrong, but we’re just gonna go out and play and give ourselves a chance to win every night. That’s what it’s about.”

Dallas started the game relying on the same guy who had been on fire the past two games. And he didn’t disappoint. Mayo continued his hot streak by hitting his first three shots and finishing with seven points in the first quarter.

Mayo, who turned 25 this week while keying the youthful starting lineup, finished with six assists and five rebounds, too, and also became the first player in the NBA this season to reach 20 three-pointers made.

Chris Kaman, at 30 the oldest starter by five years, matched Mayo’s offense with 22 points of his own, shooting over 50 percent and collecting eight rebounds. Kaman has played three games and has totaled 54 points.

A month ago, the Mavericks probably weren’t counting on having a first quarter that featured two rookies (one starting), Dominique Jones, Dahntay Jones, Troy Murphy and, as big a surprise as any, Brandan Wright starting at power forward. But using all those pieces, Dallas assembled one of its more efficient quarters of the year. They shot 60 percent and scored 36 points with eight separate players scoring.

The Mavericks cooled off a bit in the second quarter but still managed to score 25 points, and Dallas led 61-50 at half. Kaman led the team with 12 points at the halfway mark.

Rookie Jae Crowder (age 22) started and finished with eight points, making three of his four shot attempts. Another rookie, Bernard James, made his case as a reliable big man in the rotation as he grabbed nine rebounds in just 18 minutes.

“Bernard James had a great game,” Carlisle said. “He was a real factor when he was in there.”

So was Wright, who has worked to become more of a “stretch 4” and started the game at power forward. He finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.

Then there was Carter, who spent the day talking to the Toronto media about someday returning “home” (his career began as a Raptor). Carter turned back the clock against the franchise that he originally put on the map, scoring 17 often spectacular points off the bench.

With two minutes left in the game, the Raptors’ current franchise swingman, DeMar DeRozan, trying to bring his team within six points by taking Carter one-on-one, Vinsanity conjured up a defensive highlight. DeRozan drove the baseline and pulled up for a mid-range jumper, only to watch it get emphatically palm/swatted out of bounds by Carter.

The play might have had symbolic feel to it as a young athletic Raptor was put in his place by the man who used to carry the Raptors franchise on his back, but after the game Carter was hesitant to even take credit for the momentum-swinging play.

“It was luck,” Carter said with a sly smile. “No, it was just that I guessed correctly. More than anything I was just trying to stay in front of him and as he was trying to make his move I was just trying to stay by him.”

After the quick start, the Mavs were able to keep Toronto from staying with them. Tempo (keyed by Darren Collison with 15 points) was a part of that. Dallas’ pregame talk focused on the fact the Raptors were playing a fourth game in five nights.

Yes, there were some defensive lapses. Carlisle claimed that the absence of Brand was a big factor in the Mavericks getting outplayed on defense at times.

“The thing we missed tonight was Elton’s physical presence,” Carlisle said. “Without him we’re not a very physical team.”

But without whomever, the Dallas Mavericks, remain a very winning team at 4-1. Yes, the schedule has been a bit cushy. But even with that, the Mavericks overall performance in matching their best start since 2007-08 was relatively impressive considering all of the players they were missing. The fact that the team was able to so strongly rely on “the next man up” was a very positive sign for the team moving forward.

“I thought we had the potential to really get off to a good start, but I didn’t know how we were gonna do it,” Collison said. “It says a lot. It tells you we have a lot of guys that can do so many things. . . . When Dirk, Shawn and those guys get back, they’re only gonna be an added addition to us. A big added addition.”