Hey, It Could Happen.
A new year is a time to start fresh, a chance to wipe the slate clean and put the past behind you. So maybe there's something to be said for the fact that the Mavericks began the new year on a good note.
Dallas spent the new year in our nation's capitol, facing the Washington Wizards. And, after the brutal stretch of games that the Mavericks had to close the year, their trip to face the lowly, bottom-feeding Wizards was surely a welcome one.
Unfortunately, the same troubles that have plagued Dallas throughout the season reared their heads yet again early on, looming as frightening harbingers for the team's 2013 potential.
Washington held a 14-point lead in the second quarter, igniting fears that Dallas could actually lose to the agreed-upon worst team in the league, furthering their hapless image. But, fortunately for the Mavs, the team rallied in the third quarter, outscoring the Wizards 35 to 19.
Vince Carter, who started for just the second time this season, guided the team to its comeback, scoring 23 points on 9-14 shooting form the floor with a true shooting percentage of .730. More impressive? He only took two shots from the “Carter Zone,” with half of his shots coming in the paint. While working in the paint, he even was able to show some welcome flashes of Vinsanity, too.
While Carter paced the team en route to its 103-94 win, the rest of the Mavs held their own. The team only had 10 turnovers, with no starter having more than two. But rebounding, of course, remained an issue as Washington was able to clean the glass for two more rebounds than Dallas could gather throughout the game. It was also just the second time since the season opener against the Lakers that Dallas won a game with O.J. Mayo scoring less than 19 points.
Still, it bears repeating: Washington is the worst team in the league. Not having John Wall in their lineup certainly doesn't help their cause, but, even with him playing, the Wizards probably wouldn't be much better.
But hopefully this win, the Mavs' first in six games, will spur the Mavericks to a better January than December.
Where the Mavs' December was forgettable, LeBron James had a career month. He averaged 27.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists, becoming the first player to put up numbers of this magnitude in a single month since Larry Bird did it in March of 1987 and Wilt Chamberlin in February 1963. And, though spending the second day of the year in South Beach would be ideal for most anyone, it's not when it means you have to play the Miami Heat, a team on the opposite end of the basketball spectrum than the Wizards, which was exactly the task before the Mavericks on this day.
To their credit, Dallas came out strong against Miami, which is something that they have not been able to do much of this season. That early effort garnered the Mavs a 30-22 lead after the first quarter and a two-point lead at halftime, as the Heat steadily crawled back into the game. In the second half, Miami would take the lead, sure, but a strong performance by Mayo, Dirk Nowitzki, and, at times, Carter (when he wasn't hoisting ill-advised 3-pointers), kept the Mavericks close and even saw them regain the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Then the drama came. With time running down, Shane Battier hit a three, giving the Heat a two-point lead. That's when vintage Dirk came out and played: Nowitzki received the ball on the ensuing possession and drilled a signature one-legged jumper over LeBron to tie the game at 103, sending the game into overtime.
The problem with overtime is that the Mavericks just can't seem to find a way to win in those extra five minutes. Prior to this OT faceoff, the Mavs had lost their eight previous such contests dating back to last season. This game, sure enough, would be no different.
Dallas turned the ball over three times in overtime and Miami hit five of their six field goals as they pulled away for a 119-109 victory.
Though the Mavs came away empty-handed, that game gave them a lot to be encouraged about. It seems as though Mayo, after slumping through much of the month of December, has regained his shooting touch. He did turn the ball over six times in that game — the seventh time this season that he has turned the ball over five or more times — but he scored 30 points on 12-21 shooting, including a nice 4-10 effort from beyond the arc. If this is a sign of his play to come, then the Mavericks could very well be coming into form — offensively, at least.
Another encouraging sign: the play of Nowitzki. Dirk showed signs of his former self, scoring 19 points on 7-15 shooting and even flashing his tongue and pulling his jersey after nailing shots. He's still working his way back into game shape and should continue to come off the bench until he is ready, but, at least for now, the Mavs have arguably the best Sixth Man in the league.
And, hey, two games into the new year, the Mavs have shown promising signs that they can build upon. They've recently taken two of the elite teams in the NBA to overtime despite being severe underdogs. And the combination offense of Nowitzki and Mayo is starting to bud as Dirk sees more playing time.
Still, a loss is a loss is a loss, and Dallas has a long way to go if they are going to find a way to win close games — and especially those that go into overtime.
There's still a long road ahead for this team. Just getting back to .500 won't be easy.
But at least things aren't so bad at the moment that you should completely turn your back on this team altogether.
Photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.