The New-Look Mavs Looked Good In Their Season Debut. But What Should We Really Expect of Them?
One game is a terrible metric.
But, after all the negative reactions to this particular group that the Mavericks have assembled before ever playing a meaningful game in the 2012-2013 NBA season, one game sure feels good.
Let's face it, Mavs fans: Most of us were looking upon this upcoming season with a sense of doom hinging on outright apathy. Obviously, none of this was well-founded. But it speaks to a larger mistrust within the city — a bitterness formed around a misguided sense of entitlement and a healthy dose of reality.
Luckily, the Mavericks and head coach, Rick Carlisle, move on faster than most. No, Dallas did not make the sexy, world-class moves that the Lakers or Nets made in the off-season.
And yet, after one game, none of that seems to matter. Yes, the Mavericks beat the Lakers 99-91 on Tuesday night in a game that was close for a while but not nearly as close as the final score may suggest.
How is this possible? The Mavericks don't have any good players, do they? Not with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman sidelined with injuries. So how could they possibly have beaten the vaunted Lakers?
Coaching is a major factor in this one. Do not buy for one second that the hybrid Princeton offense is to blame for the Lakers' defeat as TNT's broadcasting crew was all too ready to do last night. No, Dwight Howard's free throw shooting certainly didn't help matters, either.
Look at the facts, though: The Lakers' offense was clicking for much of the first half. Traditionalists will try to argue that Lakers coach Mike Brown's strategy of taking the ball out of Steve Nash's hands is detrimental to any team Nash plays on. What's really detrimental about his game, however, is his continued inability to defend. New Mavs point guard Darren Collison exploited that throughout the game.
Yes, it was the efforts of Collison and his fellow fresh-faced Mavericks that decided the opening game of the season.
But, really, who are these Mavericks?
For better or worse, the most notable names that Dallas brought in over the summer are Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and Eddy Curry.
Kaman did not play against the Lakers due to a strained right calf. There isn't a timetable for his return. Health is a major concern for Kaman this year, just as has been the case throughout his career. Getting 60 games out of him this season would be considered a plus.
Collison made a name for himself at UCLA where he played with Russell Westbrook. Once he joined the NBA, he was Chris Paul's backup in New Orleans. When Paul went down, Collison seized his starting opportunity and led one of the quickest offenses in the league, earning a reputation as a speedy, attacking guard. His speed has always been his strongest attribute, and it appears that Carlisle has pounded that into his head. Collison's 17 points, four assists, and three steals last night clearly paced the Mavericks against L.A. Expect to see more mid-range pull-ups in transition from Collison over the course of the season. It's one of his better weapons on the break, and he shoots them at a high percentage.
Mayo, meanwhile, struggled in Memphis at times, never quite adapting to his role off the bench. Much like Collison, whose playing style was tempered during his immediately previous stop in Indiana due to an offense that flowed through David West, Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger, Mayo didn't have the ball in his hands much. The Grizzlies' offense flowed through Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay. But Mayo is an adept shooter who has been tied at the hip with Collison for the Mavs throughout the preseason as Carlisle has used them in a hockey-style line change with neither playing much time on the court without the other.
Against the Lakers, Mayo scored 12 points on a 4-for-13 shooting display. He will need to score the ball more efficiently in the future, but his play was encouragingly aggressive — especially on the defensive end. He guarded Kobe Bryant well throughout the evening. At one point in the third quarter, Mayo repeatedly deflected the ball and denied Bryant position. It was this kind of defensive effort that led the Mavericks to victory last night, just as it did in the 2010-2011 season.
Also at the forefront of last night's defensive effort was Brand, who had previously helped solidify the middle in a tenacious Philadelphia defense last season, posting a defensive rating of 96 while averaging 13.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. He'll be asked to give the Mavericks the same effort this season, especially with Dirk Nowitzki sidelined to start the season. To his credit, he did just that in the first game. He may have shot poorly, going 3-for-10 and notching just eight points, but his defensive efforts against Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard were beyond admirable as he scrapped and fought his way to 11 rebounds.
Then there's Eddy Curry. To put it mildly, Curry has had a sub-par NBA career. Conditioning issues have been a major issue for him since he was drafted by the Baby Bulls. His time in New York, meanwhile, was everything nightmare contracts are made of. If you're privy to the basketball twittersphere, you know that every joke about Curry and food has already been made a thousand times over. But he does have a ring thanks to his efforts riding the pine with the Miami Heat last year.
No, he didn't start against the Lakers last night — familiar face Brandan Wright did — but Curry did play well considering the low expectations that most fans have for him. He battled the Lakers' bigs and even called for the ball in the post at times on his way to seven points and four rebounds. He was caught out of place defensively at times, though, and the Lakers' Jordan Hill was all too happy to get into the paint for a dunk when this happened. He'll have to improve his efforts on that end of the court to fit into Dallas' gameplan this season, but it was an encouraging start from him nonetheless.
Jae Crowder, Dallas' second-round steal in this year's draft and last year's Big East Player of the Year, also played well. He didn't shy away from the theater lighting inside Staples Center one bit. Instead, he stepped into open shots, moved well without the ball, defended the much-taller Gasol at times and played with confidence.
So here's the question: What are we really looking for out of these new-look Mavericks? Have we become so insular, so jaded as a city that we cannot see the good before us just because it's not the ideal we tricked ourselves into believing was destined to be ours? Maybe.
But perhaps perceptions about this assemblage will now begin to change, even if last night's effort only amounts to a single game in an 82-game run.
Make no mistake: This is a team determined to prove its worth — not to the fans but to themselves and the league.
And, on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, they did just that.
Doyle Rader is a Dallas-based NBA blogger. Find more of his work at The Kobe Beef.