Unlikely Source Leads Mavs Over Suns

The quest for consistency took a turn no one expected last Saturday night. That’s when Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle announced forward Dirk Nowitzki would miss at least the next four games in order to get himself in the necessary shape he needs to be in for the rest of the season. It’s also a timely break for Nowitzki to take a few precautionary measures with his troublesome left knee.

At first it seemed like this break was an admission that Nowitzki’s knee was bothering him more than initially believed, but those fears were quickly squashed when it was announced Nowitzki would be doing conditioning workouts and two-a-day practices during this short hiatus from the team.

Between the shortened preseason due to the lockout, extended partying after winning the championship, and extra national team duty late in the summer, Nowitzki simply wasn’t able to go through his same routine he usually does to properly prepare for the season.

Carlisle even acknowledged before tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns that it could be longer than just a four game absence for Nowitzki.

“If he’s not ready after four games,” Carlisle said of Nowitzki. “We may extend this thing.”

And just like that, the Mavericks were without their superstar for at least a week.

The show went on though on Saturday in New Orleans against the Hornets. The first game sans-Nowitzki was an 83-81 win despite the Hornets having a chance to tie the game on the last possession with a Jarret Jack shot in the lane that fell short. Considering the Mavericks went 2-7 over a nine game stretch without Nowitzki last year, Dallas will take any win they can get without him in any way possible.

Teams in the NBA are obviously always at a disadvantage when they are without their star players, but the Mavericks have historically become even more out of sorts than they should be without Nowitzki, despite their considerable overall talent up and down the roster. Because of how the Dallas offense relies so much on the scoring of Nowitzki and how he passes out of extra attention from opponents’ defenses, the offense becomes extremely stagnant and predictable as it gets later and later in games.

Still, this Dallas Mavericks team feels like it has a couple new factors to somewhat make up for what Nowitzki’s vast talents offer: Solid team defense and a capable backup power forward in Lamar Odom. It’s obviously very well documented this season how Odom hasn’t yet met expectations, but he has the necessary skills to step in and adequately replace some of the offensive flow that Nowitzki provides.

Conversely, there is also hope that starting a few games and eating up some more minutes will help Odom get in some kind of groove and improve on his disappointing 7.6/4.8/34% numbers. With a defense that is allowing only 88.5 points per game so far this year after holding New Orleans to just 81 on Saturday, the Mavericks firmly believe they have the tools to score just enough while stifling opposing offenses to get by while their star gets himself right.

With the Suns, as well as the Timberwolves, Jazz, and potentially the Spurs all coming to town with Nowitzki sidelined, both of those factors will need to be relevant in order for Dallas to stay afloat. Ultimately though, the resting of Nowitzki sticks closely to the “Just Get to the Playoffs” mantra Mark Cuban and the rest of the organization have echoed during this lockout shortened season of chaos.

That’s all well and good, but the regular season does have to be played other teams are going to show up, tonight in the form of the Suns. Nowitzki’s unavailability means scoring has to come from somewhere else and tonight much of that came from Shawn Marion against his former team. The last time Shawn Marion hit four three-pointers in one game was January 18th, 2008, back when he was still riding shotgun alongside Steve Nash in the Mike D’antoni offense. Those days are long gone and seemingly so was Marion’s shot from beyond the arc, but he’s showing quite a resurgence so far this year as he’s already hit nine three-pointers after combining for only eighteen over the last four seasons.

Led by the scoring of Marion (29 points on 11 of 21 shooting), as well as another solid team defensive outing by holding Phoenix to 87 points, the Mavs jumped out to a 2-0 start to the Nowitzki-less stretch of games by downing the Suns 93-87. Though not perfect, it’s a win they’ll take as the idea of a winning record over this Dirk-less stretch is becoming more of a reality than a pipe-dream.

Now, if they do continue winning over the next few games, all the Mavericks have to do is make sure they can keep the momentum going without that Nowitzki character eventually returning and destroying the great chemistry they created.

Just kidding.

Mavericks Win Another Step In The Process

The Dallas Mavericks fought their way to a 6-5 record with a win in an instant classic two nights ago in Boston. The win also marked a three-game winning streak and offered the first real glimpse of consistency for the Mavericks so far this season.

Part of getting to where the Mavs want and need to be this year includes beating the teams they are supposed to beat on a regular basis. Getting the 4-6 Milwaukee Bucks at home qualifies as a team the Mavericks should be able to beat even as they work to regain their full confidence.

Speaking of confidence, Mavs forward Lamar Odom hasn’t had much of it recently. Even after a huge, momentum-building win in Boston, apparently Odom wasn’t in a celebratory mood and was even questioning how he was going to fit into the Mavericks’ offense.

Whether Odom’s worries are justified or not, Coach Rick Carlisle will have his hands full going forward to make sure the historically emotional Odom feels wanted and motivated enough to be a key piece for the Mavs this year.

With the Odom news coming forward after the other night’s game in Boston, the new roster additions of Odom, Vince Carter, and Delonte West have been grabbing some headlines early in the season. West has not only been serviceable in place of Jason Kidd at point guard who continues to recover from a lower back injury, but downright solid. His main contributions have been through his ability to run the offense at a decent rate with Kidd out, but he’s also aggressively playing the passing lanes on defense to the tune of eight steals over the last two games and getting the Mavs out in transition.

Not to be left out, Carter has made his presence felt more and more as the season has progressed. He moved into the starting lineup next to West with Kidd out and has been an early source for points in games. In the first quarter against Milwaukee he had 11 points against the Bucks as he consistently got into the lane and finished his chances. It certainly helped that he drew Carlos Delfino as his defender to start the game, who more resembled a lamp post then an NBA defender.

With Carter’s fast start, the Mavs were basically on cruise control the rest of the night as the lead grew to 27 with 9:53 left in the fourth quarter. By the end of the night, Dirk Nowitzki has 11 points in 22 minutes, Jason Terry had 17 points in 22 minutes, and the Mavs ended the game with a lineup of Roddy Beaubois, Yi Jianlian, Dominique Jones, Brian Cardinal, and Brandan Wright on the floor.

There were even thunderous “Yiiiiiiiii” chants as Yi would get the ball during offensive sets at the end of the game. He made sure to shoot every time in order to properly acknowledge the enthusiastic fans.

The 102-76 win over Milwaukee wasn’t much for drama, but it was what the Mavericks needed to do in order to recover some of the norm. The performances put forth by the Mavs haven’t been perfect by any means, but Dallas is doing what they’re supposed to be doing by progressing game by game. If nothing else, the Mavs are inching closer to their expectations by getting blowout wins over teams like the Bucks at home.

Not everyone will always be happy, but the Dallas Mavericks are currently a work in progress. The keyword there being “progress”.

Mavs Try to Get Well Against Hornets

On a night when ninety-percent of New Orleans was probably watching the Saints’ NFL playoff game against the Detroit Lions, the Dallas Mavericks took on New Orleans’ basketball team in a potential get-well game after an absolute thrashing in San Antonio at the hands of the Spurs two nights ago. As is always the case with a tough loss, the Mavs were eager to get the bad taste out of their mouth by performing well in their next game.

It’s an awkward balance in this shortened season though, as the Mavs want to get to their next game, but also need to need to make sure they get enough rest in between games when they do get rare days off. The toll of six games in eight days began catching up with the Mavericks after Jason Kidd was forced to leave the game in San Antonio with a lower back injury. Kidd will miss at least the next two games, so a team that boasts quite a solid bunch at the guard position will be forced to test that depth for the first time this season.

Coach Rick Carlisle made sure to note how important that depth will be this year.

“Depth is huge,” Carlisle said. “Depth is king. Energy trumps most everything.”

Delonte West started at point guard alongside Vince Carter, logging his second start of the season. After starting Carter in the first game of the year, Carlisle began starting West alongside Kidd in order to deal with quicker guards in the league defensively. With Kidd out and Marco Belinelli and Jarret Jack making up the starting backcourt for New Orleans, Carter again became a viable starter at guard.

It would have been easy, but extremely irresponsible, to call this a trap game for the Mavs. New Orleans came in on a five-game losing skid, but considering the up and down performances so far this year by Dallas, assuming a game will be an easy win is the last thing the Mavs should be doing. If you ask the players, even they would admit that they haven’t earned that right to even say that internally. Finding consistent quality should currently be the main focus for the Mavericks and tonight they did just that.

Despite a second consecutive below average game for Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs remained in control all night and beat New Orleans 96-81 in the relatively easy win they needed in order to secure enough rest for key players before they hit the road. West was tremendous while taking the reins of the offense with Kidd out tonight. His 12 points and 4 assists were nice, but his control of the offense and tenacity on defense set a nice tone for the Kidd-less Mavs.

“I liked his tenacity,” Carlisle said of West. “He made plays. He’s really into the game.”

In a shortened season where it may be necessary to rest older players like Kidd at times, Carlisle’s trust in another point guard will be a valuable commodity moving forward.

With the particular Mavericks team, they’ve shown the ability to play well one night and awful the next. After tonight, Dallas will have the sole focus of carrying over this momentum onto the road into Detroit on Tuesday. Perhaps they’ll gain some inspiration from their visit to Washington DC to visit the President before the game. At this point, the Mavs will be willing to try anything to gain some consistency.

Mavs Find Stride While Downing Suns

While getting wins is always the first priority, the Mavs’ second focus is finding their mid-season form as fast as they can. That includes Rick Carlisle, who is inching closer and closer towards deciding on a rotation that he is comfortable with. Monday’s win over the previously unbeaten Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Mavs their confidence back, but it’s about finding consistency with that confidence and running with it during this shortened season.

Finding their stride means a few things to this current version of the Dallas Mavericks. It’s a given that guys like Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Dirk Nowitzki would find their groove, as this isn’t exactly their first tour as a Maverick. The main worry for the Mavericks so far this year has been finding the best way to utilize newcomers Vince Carter and Lamar Odom into the flow of the rotation in order to maximize their talents. Even if it meant dropping a couple games, the Mavs have been willing to give the two players a trial by fire approach in order to find exactly what they have in their new roster additions. If the Mavericks can find the chemistry they ultimately need to succeed this year while still upping their win total, well then that’s just a bonus.

Maybe it was because his sister-in-law Kim Kardashian was in the house, or perhaps that was just my focus, but Odom decided to use tonight as something of a Dallas Mavericks coming out party. Odom had shown some big time progress over the last two games, although admittedly he had nowhere to go but up after a horrendous start to the season.

Odom did more than just make progress tonight as he filled up the stat sheet nicely in addition to contributing to the flow off the offense and causing mismatch problems all over the floor for Phoenix. Odom’s 15 points on 50% shooting with five rebounds were nice in the 98-89 win over the Suns, but a win was expected regardless of Odom’s performance.

The most important thing to come from this night is that Odom, for the first time this year, truly found a niche on this team while making big contributions toward a needed win. The Mavs margin for error is very small right now, so any time an important player whose confidence has recently wavered can contribute to an important win, the night becomes and overwhelming success. That’s exactly what Rick Carlisle was needed to see from Odom and what Odom needed to see from himself.

Carter had a poor shooting night, but his seven points, five assists, and six rebounds were a good testament to the overall positive effect he had on the game. One of the more underrated assets of Carter’s game is his passing ability, so when the Mavs find themselves on the floor with combinations like Kidd, Terry, Carter, Nowitzki, and Odom, it becomes something of a ball movement clinic.

Tonight was another steady step in the right direction for the defending champions, but Lamar Odom put it best when referring to his game.

“This is still ugly for me,” Odom admitted to the media after the game.

It was also ugly at times for the team as a whole, but the sky remains the limit with the Mavs’ depth and Dirk Nowitzki running the show as always.

Many were quick to bury the Mavs due to their slow start, but it’s time to put away the shovels as Dallas continues to improve with every game. After an 0-3 start, the Mavs are all of a sudden one win over a Manu Ginobili-less San Antonio Spurs from being back to .500.

Right now, that’s exactly where they need to be.

Mavericks End Thunder Win Streak

The last image we have from the previous Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder meeting is Kevin Durant holding a smoking gun after drilling a buzzer beating three-pointer to send the Mavs packing with a record of 0-3 to start the year.

It hasn’t been long, but Dallas is 1-1 since that game last week, including a sorry effort in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. That loss signified the end of an 18-game winning streak against the T-Wolves, and did a nice just of summarizing the low energy performances put forth by the Mavericks so far this season in a nutshell.

One of the few games this year where the Mavericks actually did provide winning energy for 48 minutes was last week in Oklahoma City, but, courtesy of Durant, it’s well documented how the result didn’t end in the Mavs’ favor. Still, one of the few positive signs of this young season for the Mavs was their effort against a good Thunder team in a tough environment and they needed to get themselves to that level again tonight. As bad as the start the Mavs’ season has been, and it’s been awful, a confidence boosting win over the growing Western Conference power would be the perfect fix to Dallas’ ailing season. They just had to make sure they brought energy for 48 minutes. It didn’t start that way early on, but luckily for Dallas, the Thunder were just as off in the first quarter.

Perhaps knowing what could potentially be at stake with too many more losses to start the year off, the veteran Mavericks rode strong third quarter play from Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd to build a 13-point lead that ballooned further to 16 early in the fourth quarter. Continuing to cement their status as a true Western Conference contender, the Thunder hung around and showed the fight that comes with such a title to keep the fourth quarter close.

It wouldn’t be enough, though, as the Mavs held off the Thunder to try and right the ship where so much has gone wrong recently. The Thunder saw their five-game winning streak to start the season come to a screeching halt and the Mavericks saw a lot of the promise they had to start the season come to fruition.

Lamar Odom finally showed some of the production and versatility he has been known for throughout his career. He only had four points, but he displayed an all-around game with five rebounds and two assists while getting to the line five times.

The Mavs’ center position combined for 16 points and 17 rebounds as they continue to try and completely make up for their departed center of last year.

Most importantly though, the Mavs finally found their stifling defense to combine with a quality shooting night. The combination of Dallas shooting 49%, Oklahoma City shooting for 40% and the Mavs limiting their mistakes to 12 turnovers turned tonight into somewhat of a dominating performance in Dallas. A game like this was needed by virtually everyone in the franchise to get some of their confidence and swagger back.

Dirk Nowitzki summed up the process of the Mavericks coming together perfectly: “I think week by week we are going to get better, but we can’t dig ourselves in too deep of a hole.”

For one night at least, the champs were back in championship form.

Dallas Puts Away Toronto In Fourth Quarter

One of the few beautiful parts of this compacted season with games coming fast and furious is there will never be much time to sit and think about tough losses. That was the case for the Mavericks tonight with the Raptors in town for a quick turnaround after a gut-punch of a loss in Oklahoma City Thursday night. Taking too much time to sit and pout about a difficult defeat has never been this team’s style, but it’s just tough to definitively know how this team of so many new faces will react to adversity.

In what would historically be a “get well” game for Dallas against Toronto, the Raptors represent exactly the kind of challenge feared by an older Mavericks team with such a tight schedule. After a mentally and physically exhausting game in OKC, the young legs of Toronto could threaten to run Dallas right out of the gym if they weren’t properly recovered.

Additionally, there was no doubt that ex-Mavericks assistant coach and current Raptors boss Dwane Casey was going to be properly prepared for his former team. Casey was the defensive coordinator for the Mavericks and their vaunted zone defense that was such a useful tool during their championship run and was hired this offseason to bring that same intensity and commitment to the defensive side of the ball in Toronto.

Despite some decent resistance from Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, and Co, Dallas did the job through three quarters with a 77-70 lead. Bargnani, specifically, kept the game within striking distance as he has 25 points on only 12 shots through the start of the fourth. He finished with a strong performance of 30 points and 7 boards. The confidence he showed in his jump shot and pump fake-escape dribble move was quite a positive sight for Toronto so far in this young season.

Leandro Barbosa even showed some form from of his Phoenix Suns days with 20 points and some electrifying plays to remind the world how much of an absolute blur he can be when he gets in the open court.

Still, it was Dallas who was the hungrier of the teams tonight and made sure to put the game away early in the fourth quarter as they jumped out to a 10-point lead at the 8:33 mark. The usual characters of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry used their two-man game to lead the way with 18 and 17 points respectively, but Dallas also received a boost from an unexpected source.

Center Ian Mahinmi helped spark the Mavs to their first win of the year with a career high 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 17 minutes. In addition to helping find ways to replace the departed Tyson Chandler’s production, Mahinmi’s performance was a welcome sight on a night when the energy from Dallas regulars was expected to be low.

It would obviously be a massive stretch to expect this kind of production from Mahinmi every night individually, but if the Mavericks can come to expect around 25 points and 15 rebounds collectively from their center spot each night, they will be well on their way to shoring up the position moving forward.

Next up for the Mavs is a visit to Minnesota to meet Ricky Rubio, Kevin love and yes, old friend JJ Barea. Dallas can start to build some consistency by starting the New Year off with a two-game winning streak. Right now for the Mavericks, it’s about stacking wins and working to perfect Carlisle’s system every night until its second nature with this new team.

Durant Makes Mavs Wait For Their First Win

For the Dallas Mavericks, there’s nothing left for them to do this season except to start winning. They’ve already seen a season’s worth of odd events and in-game situations that a veteran-filled squad has seen too many times. Stacking up wins is the habit they would like to start forming, and soon.

Win number one seemed all but sealed in Oklahoma City last night after Vince Carter’s 24-foot three-pointer gave Dallas a 102-101 lead with 1.4 second left on the clock. As has been the case so far this season though, the ball didn’t quite fall their way in the end. Their defense forced Kevin Durant to launch his 28-foot shot, while fading away in a last ditch effort to save the game. As a defense, you can’t be happier with the shot selection the Thunder was forced to take with the game on the line.

Release. Buzzer. Swish. Game.

The Thunder faithful in Loud City had been rocking all night, but were never more rowdy than they were after Durant’s shot fell to give Oklahoma City the 104-102 win, dropping the defending champs to 0-3. For the first time since the 1969-70 season, the defending champion lost their first three games following their NBA Finals victory. That team in 1969-70 was the Boston Celtics who were still trying to find their way in their first year without Bill Russell after his retirement.

These Dallas Mavericks are still trying to find their way as well, but made some tangible progress towards where they want to eventually be, despite the heartbreaking finish. It doesn’t mean much for a veteran, championship team to dwell on moral victories, but it’s all they have at this point.

Not surprisingly, Jason Terry was upbeat after the close loss.

“This was an encouraging game for us,” The Mavericks’ unofficial spokesman said. “Yes, we wanted to win but tomorrow is a big game. We’ve lost two in a row at home; it’s time to get one (a win).”

That’s all this team can focus on right now. Rick Carlisle referenced how the ‘Basketball Gods’ aren’t currently on their side, so they need to continue working hard and refining what they’ve learned to do in order to succeed in this league. Specifically, the Mavericks need to find a way to get more production out of their biggest offseason addition, Lamar Odom.

New pieces Carter and Delonte West both had their moments in this big game, but Odom was virtually invisible. Check that, he was very visible, but for all the wrong reasons with 4 points on 2 for 11 shooting in 17 minutes. Odom is obviously capable of so much more, but he and Carlisle must continue working together in order to figure out how to best fit him into their system. The Mavericks will always be a good, competitive team with Dirk at the helm, but their ultimate success will come from teamwork and players like Odom thriving to maximum efficiency in their respective roles.

With ex-assistant coach Dwane Casey coming to town, there’s no better time than tonight at home against the Toronto Raptors to start doing just that.

Not Time For Dallas To Panic

To set the scene, the sports mentality in Dallas, Texas must be understood. Champions are revered and remembered forever. Winning a title places you amongst the cities’ greatest of greats and earns the respect of all North Texas residents. Every story told and retold of a championship season seems to turn into a tall tale with feats stretched each time it’s recounted. A championship earns that right for a team in a city that treasures such things so greatly.

Conversely, anything less than that is quickly dismissed and forgotten.

Obviously, only two games into a season of 66 make it absolutely ridiculous to panic after losing both games, but that won’t stop Dallas fans, and most scribes in their writing, from doing so.

The blowout loss on Christmas Day right after the raising of the championship banner was basically locked in as a loss once the concept of fitting so many new pieces into a veteran lineup became the reality. That, added to the hosting of a hungry Heat team eager to take their disappointment out on the Mavs, a loss seemed inevitable. Considering the circumstances and celebration of the day, all was forgiven before the game even started.

But the real work was to begin the following night, last night, as the Denver Nuggets came into town.

It didn’t.

Despite starting Delonte West at guard over Vince Carter in hopes of slowing down quick point guard Ty Lawson, a problem the Mavs always seem to have, Lawson absolutely torched Dallas’ defense with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting as he led his Nuggets to an easier than the score suggests 115-93 road win over the defending champs.

The Mavericks, again, gladly helped their opponent with 19 turnovers, while not doing much to stop the Nuggets from shooting nearly 50% for the night. The game couldn’t have been a more perfect copy of how they were dismantled by the Miami Heat the day before.

In all honesty, the Mavericks were at or near rock bottom for most of the night.

Yet, it would be hasty to jump to the conclusion that this team should panic, even if they drop to 0-3 after a tough upcoming road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder due to their history of successfully overcoming doubt. Dirk Nowitzki-led teams have been buried before, only to keep fighting and produce quality seasons that this franchise has come to expect every year.

Additionally, Rick Carlisle will no doubt start pushing a few buttons within his team to start enforcing urgency as he continues to fit new pieces together.

There is very obviously room for improvement for the champs. Their defense is allowing 49% shooting so far this year and they can’t seem to keep a game within 30 points heading into the 4th quarter. Everything is going wrong, but it’s never as bad as it seems. With sky high expectations that may need to be tempered due to roster turnover and the loss of key pieces, history suggests the Mavericks will turn it around and remain competitive in the Western Conference.

After game two of the regular season, there is just too much successful history behind this team’s core and front office to buy into the doom’s day hype that will be heard around the league.

That is, at least, until there is more of a sample size to measure their results. Until then, give the team with seven new parts more than just two real games to gel before judgment is passed.

Miami Spoils Dallas’ Celebration

The Mavericks had to wait longer than any other defending champion previously had before they were allowed to raise their banner from winning the 2011 NBA Finals. They finally were able to do that on Christmas Day and immortalize what they had done last year with a flag that will forever fly in the American Airlines Center rafters.

Mark Cuban promised a celebration that wouldn’t soon be forgotten and he did just that this afternoon. Video highlights from the playoff run along with grandiose, triumphant music filled the arena and thrilled those in attendance with something many thought they may never see in Dallas.

For those being honest, there was hardly a dry eye in the house for a fan base that had seen so much disappointment and wasted seasons over the franchise’s 31 years of existence. What had seemed more and more unlikely to happen during the Dirk Nowitzki-era was now absolutely, positively a reality.

The show put on by the Mavs during the pre-game ceremony did not disappoint. The one they put on the floor to start their 2011-12 season did.

The Mavs quickly fell behind 15 points which was the direct result of eight turnovers and 23% shooting in the first quarter. The game was out of hand from that point on.

If the story of the Mavs’ day was raising the banner, then the Heat’s was to make sure they came out with the aggression that would keep them from again feeling the Finals heartbreak they received at the hands of these Mavs. From the start, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James made sure to use their seemingly unending aggression they displayed during the early games of last year’s NBA Finals to keep this game out of striking distance.

The Heat’s aggressiveness made up for their slow shooting start, but they really took off when their shots started to fall.

The Heat pushed their lead to 26 points after James Jones offered up three 3-pointers in addition to James and Wade’s contributions in the second quarter. When the Heat make shots and are allowed to get on the fast break due to their opponents’ turnovers like they did this afternoon, they are unbeatable.

The Mavericks fell into some bad habits that allowed the Heat to get on the break and grab a lead early in the Finals last June. They were able to correct many of those mistakes in order to slow that Miami attack and, obviously, go on to win the series. This is a new Mavs team and they fell victim to many of those same mistakes.

One of the main concerns for the Mavericks coming into this season was finding a suitable way to replace center Tyson Chandler after his departure to New York. Brendan Haywood was given the starting spot and didn’t initially respond how the Mavericks would have hoped with three rebounds and no points in 13 minutes of play. That kind of production from the center position, in addition to the lack of rotation on defense, won’t fly if the Mavericks want to come close to reaching their goal of defending their championship.

Right now, the Mavericks are made up of a bunch of quality pieces which must come together on the fly in order to make the season a success. Valuable time that could’ve been used to start that process was wasted after Lamar Odom was ejected in the 3rd quarter for arguing with referees after James drew a charging call on him.

Despite some fight shown by Dallas to end the game, just about everything that could’ve gone wrong in this game did go wrong for the Mavericks.

Except for the fact that the banner was raised today.

That was the whole theme for the Mavericks on this Christmas Day. In the eyes of their fans, they could do no wrong. There will be a time this season when the overanalyzing of topics like production at the center position and putting the right pieces in place will be in focus, but now isn’t it.

The final celebration of last year’s season that was took place today for the Mavericks. They responded like a team who wasn’t ready for the start of the season and the Heat responded like a team eager to erase all of the pain and doubts that arose from last year. As eager as the Heat are though, only May and June are when they can truly answer their critics.

Whether they lost by 30 or won by 30, the Mavericks were to be on Cloud Nine all Christmas Day. For just one day, this franchise was given a free pass to celebrate. Starting tomorrow against the Denver Nuggets, nothing will come free.

Plenty Of Questions Surround Mavericks

There were two roads the Dallas Mavericks front office could’ve taken this offseason. One was to re-sign many of the free agents who helped win it all for the Mavs, crippling their salary cap freedom for the future. The other was to reload with new pieces surrounding their core, while remaining flexible cap-wise. Dallas chose the latter and there is no going back.

Once the banner goes up on Christmas Day, it’s officially time for the Mavericks to move on from last year’s magical season and focus on their new goal: defending their championship.

It’s a cast of many new faces in Big D. In addition to the returnees from the championship team, the roster now includes Lamar Odom, Delonte West, Vince Carter, Sean Williams, Brandan Wright, and potentially Drew Neitzel or Jerome Randle. When a team wins a championship, other franchises will come out to pry some of those pieces away, so it’s always tough to keep one group together. Still, the Mavs are dealing with a lot of turnover, leaving Coach Rick Carlisle with quite a bit of work to do in a short period of time.

The Mavericks finished their shortened preseason 0-2 after losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder twice. Granted, preseason results will have almost no direct impact on the regular season or playoffs, but one conclusion that can be taken from the two contests is that Dallas will need some time to work in the new parts they’ve added to the mix. Theories of versatile lineups like one that will include Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and Odom all on the floor at the same time will have to be practiced on the fly during the regular season. It’s not ideal, but it’s the reality of the situation.

If Carlisle likes to do anything, he likes to tinker with players and lineups in order to find exactly what he needs when certain situations call for it. A shortened preseason and only two preseason games is exactly what a ‘tinkerer’ would despise. That’s the situation though, so Carlisle will have to blend new faces into the mix when the games count, while also building the roles and confidence of young guards Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones.

All of this leads to the increasing possibility that the Mavericks will have a rocky start to the season considering they play the Thunder twice, are at the Spurs, and in Boston all before January 11th. Obviously, this concern isn’t due to lack of talent, as the Mavs are overflowing with it at multiple positions, but due to the need to develop the same kind of chemistry that carried them so far a year ago.

The willingness to put the necessary work in to repeat is there, as we’ve already seen guys like Marion and Jason Terry spouting off about how they feel they aren’t getting the proper respect for winning a championship. Chemistry will come with time and the Mavericks will bring the motivated fight.

Just don’t expect them to be hitting on all cylinders when Christmas rolls around.

Mavericks Reloading On The Fly

Since the lockout was lifted, it’s been quite an interesting few weeks for the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. With the new CBA rules enforcing much steeper penalties on teams willing to pay the luxury tax, Dallas has been forced to adjust their strategy and make some tough decisions.

Those tough decisions included letting pieces from last year’s championship puzzle like Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler walk in free agency with hardly any fight. It seems like quite a bold move for the Mavs front office to make such a strong stance against committing years and money to players who helped win the franchise its’ first championship, but GM Donnie Nelson has justified his personnel moves and reloaded the team with one of his flexible, creative plans that he seems to always come up with.

Nelson, Cuban, and Co. have always relied on the ability to trade for useful pieces while taking back ugly contracts in order to build around franchise centerpiece Dirk Nowitzki. The severe penalties that are now handed out to teams in luxury tax territory in the new CBA very much restrict the Mavericks from conducting that same strategy.

Though it seems odd to let Chandler sign with the New York Knicks, considering the Mavericks have created the reputation as a franchise that throws money at big men like it’s a snowball, this offseason has been all about staying competitive while creating cap space for the future. Donnie Nelson has been able to do just that with the moves he has made.

When the Lakers thought they had completed a trade for Chris Paul that included Lamar Odom going to New Orleans, the league’s landscape was about to take see massive changes. The trade ended up being vetoed by the league, but the LA-LO bridge had been burned for good. Offended by being “unwanted” by the Lakers, Odom demanded a trade. The Mavericks, freshly armed with a giant $11-million trade exception in the Chandler sign and trade, swooped in to make a deal for Odom seemingly out of nowhere.

When the dust settled, the Mavericks had Odom on their roster while giving up no quality. The Mavs are in the business of overall talent acquisition for cheap and the Odom deal represented that philosophy to the max. Odom will make about $9 million this year with a team option for next season, so the theme of flexibility for Dallas remains intact. Additionally, the fanfare that follows the Kardashians mixed with Mark Cuban’s thirst for the spotlight is an absolute match made in heaven.

I’m sorry, not heaven. I meant the E! Network.

Jason Kidd’s old New Jersey running buddy, Vince Carter, was a free agent after being traded from Orlando and spending some of last year in Phoenix. Carter may be a little long in the tooth at this point in his career, but he can still get the ball in the basket and every team can always use that skill set.

The thought process on Carter is that playing in an offense where opposing defenses will be so focused on stopping one force (Nowitzki) who can pass out of double teams will make Carter a dangerous offensive weapon.

Last year, the Mavs received the maximum effort from a team full of veterans, none of which had ever won a championship. Carter falls into that category and the Mavs are using the same logic in hopes that they found a two-way player that can eat up big minutes at the shooting guard and small forward positions.

If Mavs fans are lucky, the Kidd-Carter backcourt combo may even turn the clock back a bit and add a little something to the highlight reel.

There are obvious red flags with a guy like Delonte West who has such a checkered past. The Mavs had to roll the dice on him, though, considering his talents on the court combined with the level-headed Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki controlled locker room.

Ideally, West can come in and be a combination of the tough guy DeShawn Stevenson was, and the get-in-the-lane pick and roll partner with Nowitzki that JJ Barea was. There is no doubt that it has been reinforced to him multiple times that if he does anything the put the steady Maverick locker room balance into question, he’ll get his walking papers.

Haywood isn’t a new addition to the team, but it almost feels that way. After trading for Haywood in 2010, he became somewhat of an afterthought with the acquisition of Chandler last year. Still, the presence of Haywood on the roster made it much easier to swallow the pill of Chandler moving on to New York. There is quite a bit of pressure on Haywood to perform in the center spot that was such a catalyst in propelling the franchise to its championship last season.

Haywood has shown flashes in his time in Dallas, but he has some massive shoes to fill in the eyes of Mavs fans.

After constructing a roster good enough to win it all last season, Donnie Nelson earned himself quite a bit of slack in his decision making for the future. Mavs fans wouldn’t be happy about a season where the team took a step back in order to make adjustments within the new salary cap situation, but they would accept it. The beauty of this current roster is Nelson has pulled the rabbit out of his hat again by fielding a competitive roster and creating massive flexibility to make moves in years to come.

The absence of Chandler and Barea are obvious holes to fill, especially with the former. But if Haywood can provide 80% of the production that Chandler gave and the combination of Carter, Odom, and West’s additional contributions can make up for the rest of losses amongst the roster, why can’t this team make another run with its newly found championship confidence?

The Lakers have lost some talent (to the Mavs no less), the Thunder and Grizzlies are in the process of proving themselves, and the Spurs avoided making any flashy moves this offseason. The Mavs may not be favorites, but they’ve forced themselves near the top of the Western Conference contenders list while setting themselves up for the future.

With potentially $27-million coming off the books for Dallas after this season, the hope remains to sign Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, or both. That’s obviously a massive pipe dream for the franchise and its fans considering so much would have to fall the right way, not the least of which includes both players would actually have to hit free agency.

One thing to remember though is that many things that seem to be a pipe dream to you and I, always seem to be in the grasp of a guy like Mark Cuban.

Cuban dreams big and so will the Mavs for this and upcoming seasons.

Things Are Heating Up In Dallas

Finally.

The NBA Lockout is over, finished, done… after a couple crossed T’s and dotted lower case j’s of course.

Believe it or not, we’re nearly at a point where we can actually begin seeing transactions, free agency, and training camp again. Every franchise will be affected by the specifics of the new CBA in their own particular way, but new wrinkles that have developed simply from the lockout’s length like less training camp, fewer games and a shortened season will have quite an effect their selves.

Look no further than the defending champion Dallas Mavericks to see how the dragging on of this lockout can have both positive and negative influences on one team.

One obvious observation of this Mavericks team is that the collective age of most of the impactful players is quite high… again. Jumping to a quick conclusion, the logic is that a veteran team can adjust to a different schedule on the fly while welcoming 16 less games with open arms.

While there are certainly more factors that will affect Dallas’ season, you can confidently bet that many of the players on the roster with more wear and tear on their tires had no issue with taking an extra month off.

Speaking of tires wearing down, the most interesting Mavericks case study of how the lockout fallout will influence players will be with 18-year veteran point guard Jason Kidd. In a season that will require the perfect pace of pushing it and laying off at the right times, one of the most important tools the Mavs have will be the Savant-like basketball IQ of Kidd leading the way. He will absolutely know what buttons to push in order to get the most out of his team with the big picture in mind.

His individual case is a different story, though. On one hand, is there anyone in the league who benefitted more from the extra rest than Kidd? His name didn’t come up for any charity games or events for a reason: He knows his body and was resting. Not everyone can be as spry as Kevin Durant these days.

You won’t hear any complaints from Jason about only having to play 66 regular season games. With that in mind, Kidd will definitely feel it in his legs when he encounters his first back-to-back-to-back games since the 1999 lockout shortened season, as the league has announce they planned to do 1-3 times for each team this year.

Also, during last year’s playoff run, the Mavs had 10 days off before the Conference Finals and nearly seven more before the Finals. No one benefited more from that rest than Kidd, who had to chase around Russell Westbrook and Durant, then Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in those respective series.

This year, the league has also announced they plan to play at least one back-to-back in each 2nd round series. That doesn’t exactly lend itself to the Mavs’ plan of having Kidd well rested for the biggest games of the season. Will less in-season rest and an unlucky schedule take too much of a toll on him? Rick Carlisle, Donnie Nelson and Co. may have a big decision on their hands as products of the lockout come to fruition: Do they rest Jason Kidd in necessary spots and relatively throw seeding/50-win seasons to the wind? Or make as big a push as they can in the regular season and hope the schedule unfolds somewhat similarly the way it did last year? If the former becomes the priority, then the re-signing of JJ Barea (or the signing of a competent replacement) becomes even more vital than it already is.

Glancing at the rest of the roster, much of the Mavericks’ success during the 2011-12 campaign will depend on their moves during free agency and whether or not their vaunted depth will remain a team strength. As stated, a capable backup point guard is a high priority after the Mavs saw how effective a rested Kidd can be down the stretch and throughout the playoffs.
Furthermore, the ability to have a guard who can complement Kidd with a drive/kick and pick & roll game the way Barea did can be devastating for opponents.

At shooting guard, Jason Terry will still get his high minute total while coming off the bench in his 6th man role. The hope at the SG spot is that Rodrigue Beaubois will come into this season matured and ready to take on a bigger role. Ideally, he will be prepared to ease the scoring load on Terry and perhaps even force Coach Carlisle’s hand into giving him more minutes as he begins to tap into his vast talent. As of now, that cannot at all be counted on, so the Rudy Fernandez trade and potential resigning of DeShawn Stevenson will be options to shore up the position, although it remains unclear if Stevenson can be re-signed until the CBA is in place.

The two forward spots are a little clearer. Small forward is Shawn Marion’s spot, but he’s another Maverick who is getting up there in years and can be injury-prone. If Caron Butler finds greener pastures, Corey Brewer or a free agent must be able to come in and give quality minutes in order for Marion to be in top form come playoffs.

Last year, Marion was in the argument as the second best player for Dallas during the full course of the playoffs with his exceptional defense and underrated ability to post up smaller defenders. He is another perfect example of how this team can jump to another level when their key players are rested late in the season.

How is it possible that we’re this far into the article and we’re yet to mention reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki? Mainly, because we’ve been discussing how the lockout maybe change the look of the Mavs this upcoming year and Nowitzki has been the most consistent force in the league for the last decade. He may be 33, but he remains in his prime and looks to stay that way into the foreseeable future with his clockwork offensive game and unprecedented rest this summer after some international duty for Germany. Dirk may see his minutes and averages drop a tick again this year, but his efficiency will be through the roof whether there are 66, 82, 10, or 1,000 games.

The center position ended up being the catalyst last year in Dallas’ push for their first championship. How the terms of the new CBA and the following free agency period change the Mavericks center situation may very well decide this season in the same way. One of the reasons Dallas took a flier on Tyson Chandler last year was because he was an expiring contract and therefore allowed them to remain flexible roster-wise. Well, long story short, he helped spark the Mavs toward the ultimate prize, so re-signing him instantly became their top priority.

Additionally, Brendan Haywood had one of his worst statistical seasons as a pro, but provided the defense and size needed to be a top backup center in the league.

The simple solution seems to be re-signing Tyson in order to keep their championship caliber two-headed monster at center together for years to come. Ah, but there is a problem. The terms of the new CBA may not allow the Mavericks the necessary cap room or exceptions in order to re-sign their starting center, but it does allow for an amnesty clause which will allow a team to release a player without their salary counting against the salary cap. The problem? With his hefty contract, the player who most warrants an amnesty cut is Haywood.

Potentially, the only way to re-sign Chandler (and maybe Barea, as well) may be to severely reduce their depth of big men. This opens a whole new can of worms involving answering questions of team depth vs. future cap flexibility vs. opening the Dirk Nowitzki window for as long as it can. Only time and the revelation of new CBA details will tell.

Schedule-wise, the Mavericks (and the rest of the Southwest Division for the matter) may find themselves on the short end of the stick if certain scheduling rumors are true. It sounds like the league is leaning towards a schedule that includes 48 in-conference games and 18 out of conference games. While the details of that schedule remain unclear, there has also been talk of a more simple, but potentially unfair scheduling idea. Mathematically, the league gave itself a decent scheduling option as 66 games will perfectly equal 4 games against each division opponent (16 games) and 2 games each against the rest of the league (50 games). It makes sense from a numbers perspective and geographic sense, but teams in tougher divisions can’t be too excited about meeting those opponents for almost a quarter of their schedule.

Looking into it even further than just a Mavericks’ perspective, how are the Houston Rockets supposed to feel about playing the defending champs (Dallas), a team that was a Game 7 loss from the Conference Finals (Memphis), a supposedly healthy Chris Paul (New Orleans), oh, and the Western Conference’s 1-seed from a year ago (San Antonio) for a 25% chunk of their season?

Due to the lockout extending so far into the season, strength of schedule may go a long way toward deciding what the playoff seeding landscape will look like.

Again, this seems to be an unlikely scheduling option at this point, but could ultimately prove to be a road block for the Mavericks.

It’s an exciting time for the defending champs with a ring ceremony and banner raising awaiting on opening night, but it’s also somewhat of an uneasy period as such big pieces to the championship puzzle remain question marks. As is the case with any recent championship team’s front office though, DFW currently has complete faith in the Nelson, Carlisle, and Mark Cuban trifecta to make the necessary moves within the new CBA to keep the Mavs in the championship picture.

There is simply no way Cuban let’s this euphoric feeling surrounding his franchise disappear so quickly and easily.

Plus, no terms of any CBA can take away that Nowitzki jump shot.