By Will Martin
Perhaps it was a given to expect the Dallas Mavericks to not be able to maintain a level of momentum witnessed prior to the All-Star break in Indiana. Back to back defending champions Miami Heat came in for a visit on the 18th. For three and a half quarters the Mavericks were able to remain neck and neck with the Heat before LeBron James and Chris ‘Birdman’ Anderson caught fire in a 4th quarter that Dallas was outscored 33-21 in a 117-106 loss. King James with a season high 42 points. 18 for the Birdman and getting outscored in the paint 56-34.
The Eastern Conference has proven to be a challenge to Rick Carlisle and staff. To their benefit were a trio of road games beginning on the 21st in Philadelphia with the short on manpower 76ers. So much so that only nine players were available to go for Philly on Friday night.
Dallas (33-23) proceeded to begin the game on a 10-2 run and a 5 for 5 14 points start in the first period by Dirk Nowitzki. A 41-23 lead after one looked like it would be a runaway. It would have been if not for 17 first half turnovers which led to 23 76ers points.
“We had an amazing start to the game,” Nowitzki said. “We were shooting the ball and getting layups, and then they started to trap us a little bit. We didn’t really react well to their run-and-jump defense. I think we had 17 total turnovers in the first half, and that really kept them in the game or got them back into the game. And then we had to kind of grind it out from there. You’ve got to give them credit. They kept competing. When they were down 20, they sped the game up and turned us over. We didn’t really respond well at the end of the first quarter and the whole second quarter.”
The lead at the half was 69-62 for the Mavericks as they coasted to a 124-112 victory in the city of Brotherly Love. Just like their game with the Heat, Dallas out-rebounded the 76ers 24-14, and shot 64% after 24 minutes.
Four Mavericks players were in double figures. The bench play of DeJuan Blair (with his 18 points) along with 49 combined points by Dirk Nowiztki and Shawn Marion proved to be too much for the nine player roster of Philadelphia (15-41).
Thaddeus Young led all 76ers scorers with 30 points. While Philadelphia was able to accrue 34 points on 25 Dallas turnovers another saving grace for the Mavs was winning the rebound battle 48-34 as the Mavericks got back to ten games above .500 after this game. Kudos also to Dallas as they shot 63% for the game.
Was this the kind of game you expected Coach Carlisle?
“It’s exactly the kind of game that we expected,” Carlisle concluded. “We expected it to be 48 minutes of heat with them chasing the ball all over the place, and we knew that ball security was going to be an important part of it. In the first half, it was an unmitigated failure in that area. In the second, it was much better and we were able to get some separation and finish it.
“I credit our guys for hanging in. It’s a mentally-challenging game with how young and fast and hard those guys were playing. The 76ers make a lot of things happen. But we hung in and got the win, which was great, and we’ve got to keep going forward.”
DeJuan Blair was very amped about the way the team plays with good ball movement.
“If we move the ball and find the open shot, we’re a great team,” Blair said. “Once we have everybody doing what they do and trying to do it themselves, it’s a little harder for us. But, if we keep doing that, then we’re pretty good.”
No rest for the weary as the Mavericks were off to Detroit to play a back to back with the Pistons.
Lessening the turnover count from 25 to 14 was the first order of business for Team Carlisle against the Motown Pistons. A team the Mavericks have dominated with nine wins in their last ten meetings. On the 22nd no less than six Mavericks players would get into double figures. Dirk led the way with 24 followed by 18 from Vince Carter off the bench. Monta Ellis contributed 12 points and 13 assists. Samuel Dalembert and Shawn Marion added 11 rebounds apiece along with 12 and 10 points
The Mavericks (34-23) would get to 11 games above .500 for the first time this season with a 113-102 victory over Detroit (23-33). Just like the 76ers win the night before Dallas went wire-to wire with the win despite a 32 point performance by Josh Smith. The Mavs were ahead 29-27 after 1, 64-54 at the half, 88-82 after three, and 11 by game’s end.
Vince Carter is more than pleased by the team effort offensively.
“It helps when you’re not turning the ball over, plain and simple,” Vinsanity shared. “We can score and we get the job done when we’re efficient and we take care of the ball. … We were just sharing the ball and I think guys were finding the open man. Guys were making shots, but we were just making plays for each other.”
Rick Carlisle with a friendly reminder of what happens when you keep turnovers down and out you out-rebound. 50-39 on this night to be precise.
“If you’re a plus on rebounds and you do a decent job on turnovers, you’ve got a good chance against these guys,” Carlisle offered. “We did both of those things, so it’s good execution and (games) are going to keep getting harder from here.”
Also this from the Big German.
“I thought offensively we kept attacking,” Nowitzki opined. “It’s not like we had a great night defensively. I mean, they scored over 100, but offensively we’ve been really great on this trip. We moved the ball fantastic and had over 30 assists again. I thought Monta’s floor game was phenomenal tonight – just getting everybody involved. They trapped him of the screen-and-roll, and he found the open guy. And in the fourth quarter they didn’t trap him anymore, and that’s when he got in the lane and basically took the game over for us. I thought he was really patient, he played a great floor game and really in the fourth won the game for us.”
Coach, at any time did you feel as if your defense was going to be tested by the Pistons?
“Look, they’re a potent team and they threw a 41-point third quarter at Atlanta last night and were down 10 or 11 at halftime last night,” Carlisle explained. “Same type of situation, and I think they were making a run in the third and we did a pretty good job of not letting them get too much momentum.”
One more road game remains in New York with the Knicks (21-35) on the 24th before returning home to play the Pelicans and Chicago Bulls on the 26th and 28th to close out the month of February. If the season ended this day Dallas is a #8 seed and they get the Thunder in the first round. You have four teams in a battle for the 6-8 seeds separated by all of two and half games.
March gets tougher with the Thunder, Blazers, Celtics, and Nets all slated for action. To the Mavericks credit their road record now sits at 16-14 while 18-9 at home. A recipe for reaching the playoffs for a 13th time in 14 years.
2/24 @Knicks 6:30 PM
2/26 vs Pelicans 7:00 PM
2/28 vs Bulls 7:30 PM
3/2 @Spurs 6:00 PM