Mavs stay hot on road, take down Magic
All the uncertainty around Orlando couldn't have worked out better for the Dallas Mavericks.
Not that they've had a problem with anybody lately.
Caron Butler scored 20 points, Dirk Nowitzki had 17 and the streaking Mavericks became the latest team to topple the reconstructed Magic in a 105-99 victory Tuesday night.
"We still know who they had," Nowitzki said of a Magic team that just overhauled its roster. "Dwight (Howard) is their focus. They have a bunch of shooters, Jameer (Nelson) and all those guys."
In other words, still not good enough to beat the NBA's elite.
Nowitzki also passed Celtics great Larry Bird for 25th on the NBA's career scoring list, finishing the night at 21,798 points. Tyson Chandler added 16 points to help the Mavericks pull away in the fourth quarter for their 16th win in 17 games.
A night after snapping Miami's 12-game winning streak, they shot 50 percent from the floor, including 46 percent from 3-point range.
"We feel like we're one of the best teams in the league, if not the best right now," Butler said. "We're playing great basketball, so we want to capitalize on every opportunity."
And Orlando provided a perfect one.
The Magic again looked like a team that hasn't had time to hold a practice since newcomers Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu were acquired on Saturday. They've lost the first two games since the pair of blockbuster trades and dropped eight of their last nine.
The latest came on another monster night for Howard, who had 26 points and 23 rebounds but got no help from his new teammates. Howard has had at least 20 rebounds in three straight games.
"It can't get any worse," Howard said of his team's slide.
The Magic can only hope not.
Their next two games come against the league's top two teams: San Antonio and Boston.
The struggles were a big reason they orchestrated two trades that brought Arenas from Washington and Turkoglu, Richardson and Earl Clark from Phoenix. They gave up Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, plus a 2011 first-round draft pick, in the deals.
The three biggest newcomers have so far been unspectacular. After a loss at Atlanta in their first outing together, their home debuts were equally troubling: Arenas had two points (1 for 6), Turkoglu nine points (2 for 11) and Richardson 10 points (4 for 13).
"None of those guys are shooting the ball very well right now," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I don't know if it's being in a new situation or putting too much pressure on themselves. All three of them are struggling to shoot the ball."
The problem now is sorting out how this revamped roster is supposed to work.
It wasn't until the Mavericks went ahead by 12 points in the fourth quarter that the Magic - at least those other than Howard - showed any consistent fight.
Richardson's 3-pointer with 56 seconds remaining trimmed the deficit to three. Then Jason Terry came back with a mid-range jumper from the wing, and Richardson followed with another from beyond the arc with 24 left to bring Orlando within two.
But the Mavericks would shoot free throws the rest of the way, and Orlando couldn't find any more Magic on this night. While they sort out how their revamped roster is supposed to work, opponents have already exposed their biggest weakness.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle activated four centers against the suddenly undersized Magic, who are without a true backup center with Gortat gone but are exploring options to receive another inside presence. The big lineup turned out to be a big plus.
The Mavericks went ahead by 12 points in the first quarter behind strong play from Nowitzki. The 7-foot sharpshooter benefited often when he was guarded by Turkoglu, usually a small forward, and other undersized opponents.
Orlando did show some zip with a a 17-2 run between the first and second quarters. The spurt was sparked by Arenas and Clark - and, surprisingly, with Howard and Jameer Nelson on the bench - and pushed the Magic ahead 31-29, with Howard leading a chest-bumping bonanza with every player and even Van Gundy during a timeout.
Turned out to be a premature celebration.
NOTES: Howard also had three straight 20-plus rebound games from Dec. 28-31 in 2007. ... Magic PF Malik Allen sat out the game with a sprained left ankle. ... The Mavericks don't play again until Monday at Oklahoma City.