Boost from supporting cast propels Mavs
In the biggest test of this shortened NBA season, the Dallas Mavericks delivered their most impressive performance to date. Playing a Boston Celtics team at TD Garden that was coming off four days of rest, the formerly decrepit Mavs were the aggressors in a 90-85 win.
It was the type of win that could restore a championship team's swagger in the midst of a rocky start. And for the first time this season, the Mavs have climbed above .500 with a 6-5 record. That they did it without injured point guard Jason Kidd speaks to the team's resilience.
Former Celtics guard Delonte West set the tone early for the Mavs by scoring the first six points of the game. He finished with 12 points and three steals in the win, and he had the good sense to put the ball in Dirk Nowitzki's hands at the end of the game.
West helped the Celtics by taking three straight ill-advised shots in the fourth quarter, but Mavs coach Rick Carlisle will live with some of that because he doesn't want to curb the guard's competitive fire. You wondered who might replace some of the passion that Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea brought to the floor, and so far West has helped fill that void. Celtics coach Doc Rivers knows firsthand what West can bring to a team.
"The old saying is, after the game, they should know your name," Rivers told reporters. "I guarantee you when you're done playing against Delonte West, you know Delonte West. And that's big for your team. He's an instigator. You need a lot of those, and he's one, for sure."
You can tell that from just reading the guy's tweets, but what he's done is give the Mavs a viable alternative to Kidd, who has not looked himself through the first 11 games of the season. If West and Roddy Beaubois can continue to give the Mavs valuable minutes, Carlisle can afford to keep Kidd fresh for the playoffs.
It's also a good sign the team is finding ways to win without a lot of points coming from Nowitzki, who finished with 16 after his game-deciding conventional three-point play with just more than five seconds remaining. Nowitzki appeared listless in the first few games of the season, and then he endured a scoring slump that included back-to-back efforts of six and 10 points.
Shawn Marion recognized early in Wednesday's game that he needed to focus on scoring. He flipped in a 3-pointer in the first half and kept several plays alive with offensive rebounds.
This isn't going to be pretty, but the Mavs made a statement in beating a perennial Eastern Conference power on the second night of a back-to-back. They seemed to be inspired by Carlisle's ejection early in the second half, prompted after he raced onto the floor to protest a non-call when Kevin Garnett appeared to have Nowitzki in a bear-hug as he moved without the ball. The Mavs trailed by five points after the two technical free throws, but then went on a 24-6 run that saw them take a 13-point lead over the Celtics.
It's easy to imagine how effective the Mavs could be if someone persuades Lamar Odom to stop moping around the court making a general nuisance of himself. Something tells me the ruthless Kobe Bryant has found a way to move on without his sidekick, so Odom should do the same. His wife, Khloe Kardashian, showed more energy than he did when she tweeted an expletive to celebrate Nowitzki's big shot Wednesday evening.
But until Odom decides he wants to move on from his Lakers mourning period, the Mavs will hope the center tandem of Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi will continue to provide a huge spark. Despite having major issues at the free-throw line Thursday (2-of-10), the two combined for 16 points and 17 rebounds. Mahinmi has been the most pleasant surprise of the season, and his energy appears to have inspired Haywood.
No one will replace what Chandler brought to the team in terms of attitude and athleticism, but Haywood and Mahinmi are putting up strong numbers in his absence.
The biggest challenge for Carlisle outside of finding ways to get some aging stars through a shortened season is to find a way to make all the new pieces fit. So far, West has been the easiest fit. And despite a poor shooting night against the Celtics, Vince Carter has had his moments.
If Carlisle can find a way to get through to Odom, the Mavs could be a lot better off than we thought after a rough start. Maybe it's time for the Mavs coach to place a call to Khloe.