The Dallas Mavericks knew just what they would be facing when they played the Heat on Monday night. They did not have that luxury the following evening when they faced the Orlando Magic, who had just recently made significant personnel changes on their roster. The unknown did not seem to phase the Mavericks, however, who successfully completed their sweep of the Florida teams with a 105-99 victory over the Magic Tuesday night.
Prior to the game, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was asked what he thought they might see in terms of their playing style, and he told us, "We saw the game last night, and their system is gonna be very similar, but they got a lot of new players and they got more offensive firepower for sure with Arenas, Turkoglu, and Richardson." Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson combined for 19 points in 39 minutes, but Gilbert Arenas, recently acquired from the Wizards, only put up two points on 1 of 6 shooting.
In contrast to his teammates, Dwight Howard had a huge night. Carlisle recognized that this might be the case, saying, "Dwight Howard is a guy that can singlehandedly dominate a game, and we know that." With 26 points and 23 rebounds, Howard had the highest totals of the night. Dallas’ big men didn’t have quite as impressive a showing, with Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood combining for 20 points and only eight rebounds. In fact, the leading rebounder for the Mavericks was Dirk Nowitzki, who pulled in eight boards to go with his 17 points and five assists.
Dirk was the feel-good story of the night, because when he hit a three point shot with 11:18 left to play in the game, his 11th point put him in front of Celtics-great Larry Bird as 25th on the all-time scoring list. His coach and teammates had nothing but the highest praise for him. Jason Terry called him "the greatest European, hands down. His work ethic is what put him up there with all the greats, and he will be a hall-of-famer." Carlisle revealed, "I just got a text message from Larry right as the game ended saying to congratulate Dirk, and that he’s always been a huge fan." Apparently Bird texted the big man himself as well.
Always the humble star, Dirk was able to put his accomplishment in perspective. "It’s obviously an unbelievable accomplishment to be in the top 25 scorers in an amazing league with an amazing history and amazing players," he said. "I think it’s gonna mean more to me once my career is done. In 15, 20 years I’ll look back at the stuff I’ve accomplished, I think I’ll be more proud. But as of now I’m still chasing the dream, I’m still trying to bring a championship to Dallas, so that’s where my focus is now."
Although Nowitzki had a significant night, he was not the team’s best player on the floor in Orlando. In fact, the entire roster contributed to this win, as was made evident by the six players scoring in double digits, including a solid double/double for Jason Kidd. In response to Kidd’s 13 points and game-high 12 assists, Carlisle commented, "Kidd had a phenomenal floor game. He got people shots, he was a traffic cop on defense, he had great insights during timeouts, he shot the ball, made key threes, and fortunately we were able to keep him at a real reasonable number tonight." Kidd played just 33 minutes, as opposed to 39 minutes the night before.
Caron Butler and Jason Terry both had big scoring nights, with Butler’s 20 points leading the team. He hit four of Dallas’ 12 three-pointers, and scored all of his points in the first three quarters. In a rare post-game appearance, Butler told the media of his plans for the uncharacteristically long holiday break for the team. He plans to "take two days off, enjoy the family, eat good." Apparently he started that break early, as he was able to rest for the entire final period. Dirk was pleased with his teams’ support on the offensive end. He told me, "I think ultimately, if you want to win it all, if you look at all the good teams you gotta have multiple options, you gotta have multiple scorers so the team just cant sit on one or two players."
The game got close in the fourth when Orlando’s outside game came to life. A three-point basket from Jason Richardson brought the Magic to within two points with 24 seconds left in the game, but the Mavericks went a perfect 10 of 10 from the line in the final period and were able to eke out another win over a quality team. When asked about the ability of this team to get these big wins, Kidd responded, "I think the biggest thing is that we believe in one another. On the defensive end, we’ve improved and we hold each other accountable."
Especially after such a strong start to the season, Dirk was feeling confident in his team. "The best thing is the atmosphere in the locker room," he told us. "Everybody is getting along with each other, we’re having fun, we’re making fun of each other all the time, we like being around each other. This is the best group I’ve probably been around in my 12, 13 years so it’s been a pleasure." Carlisle shared his sentiment, saying, "I love our group, I love our depth, all that should go without saying. This is a terrific collection of guys and our depth is quality at every position… but collectively it’s all about one thing, and that is becoming the best team we can become."
On a separate note, that concludes my live coverage of the Mavericks' away games. Coolest experience ever... hope to do it again soon!