What a way to start an NBA season. Go into LA, toss around the Lakers, play like a team, and party. The last one is an assumption, but if you were a Maverick right now, what would you be doing?
The first basket of the game, an O.J. Mayo three pointer in the corner. The second, a baseline drive by Darren Collison with a nifty floating layup.
Welcome to the Mavericks, you two.
Coming into the game, everyone was talking about the new additions. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, oh my! Turns out they should have been looking at the other team, as the retooled Mavericks roster ran all over them in the NBA season opener.
With the Mavericks missing Dirk and Chris Kaman, the Lakers were clearly the more talented team. Except, of course, they didn't play like much of a team at all. On the other hand, the recently assembled Mavericks team worked together like clockwork, making the right cuts, passes and rotations.
The Mavericks hung with the Lakers the entire first half, answering their emphatic dunks with jumpers and up-tempo attacks. The Maverick offense still scores primarily through mid-range jumpers, but there's a visible shift in the speed. It's been talked about in depth and then some more, but Darren Collison does push the tempo. This isn't the Suns -- don't expect 120 points a game. In the right situations, though, Collison and Crowder and some of the younger guys will fly down the court and use tempo as an offensive weapon. It's going to be exciting to watch.
As odd as it sounds, there was also a push to get Eddy Curry the ball down low when he played. This is partly just a strategy of desperation, hoping he'd give them something on the offense-depleted team. But when Kaman return, he's going to get those same low posts and be much more effective at converting them. It might still be a few games before he returns, but whenever he does, it's an offensive change that will be unique to anything the Mavericks are used to in the past five years (if not decade).
There's no better way to start an NBA season, both because of the opponent and how the team played. Welcome back, basketball.
- After rumors of Curry starting at center, Rick Carlisle made a last second change to insert Brandan Wright into the lineup, and it damn sure worked. He was active immediately, with a great recovery to block Gasol and a couple nice finishes around the basket in the first, and just as much energy in the second half. In the fourth quarter, he scored 8 points alone, including two and-1's. This guy was everywhere.
- Obviously, I mentioned Mayo above, and those looking at the box score might shake their head and wonder what I'm thinking. He wasn't amazing, like Collison, but his 4/13 shooting doesn't tell it all. He made some great passes, and despite the knock as a bad defender, at least gave full effort. On a possession against Kobe, he knocked the ball out from his hands on a post-up and then did it again on the repost. He's not going to turn into Shawn Marion, but individual effort is what makes the team concept work.
- Now Collison. This man was fantastic, pushing the tempo and finishing layups when allowed, holding back and setting up offense, or just his own pull-up jumper, when the defense got back. Everything he shot seemed to go down, even a one-footed floater from the free throw line that makes defenders have nightmares. What a game.
- In a bit of a twist, it was the offense that looked good for Dallas early on and the defense that was lacking. The offense got good looking shots inside of fifteen feet, although they didn't capitalize on all of them. The defense, on the other hand, let the Lakers get free several times, especially struggling with the post hand-off that brought the Mavericks big man out of the paint and let Lakers guards slice right to the hole uncontested. In fact, two Carlisle timeouts were called directly after the Lakers scored way too easily. The Mavericks improved on this over the course of the game, and were clearly frustrating the Lakers in the final minutes.
- Jae Crowder does it all. Hit jumpers. Poked the ball away from Kobe as he pulled up. Guarded Gasol and forced a bad shot. I have nothing bad to say about him.
- You know who else showed up? Rodrigue Beaubois made a big impact in a big game, folks. After he badly missed his first shot, I was prepared for the same old song from him, and then...a three pointer splashed home. Then, he stripped Steve Nash in the backcourt and scored the layup. A couple plays later, he took a controlled pull-up jumper from the elbow that went in. Perhaps the biggest basket was in the 4th quarter, where he missed a floater but tipped in his own miss with the left hand -- over two Laker big men! Dished out 5 assists, too, looking comfortable with the drive and kick. One guy I know everybody will be rooting for to keep playing like this.
- With Dirk and Kaman out, Carter took it upon himself to play hero ball with unnecessary long two pointers. For a former superstar, it has to be an instinctive urge, especially missing the team's real superstar. That's no excuse -- jacking long two's that go in 20% of the time is exactly what the Mavericks offense was trying to rid itself by getting post players who can work it inside and a shifty point guard who pushes the ball. He had a solid second half, mixing up the shots a little bit, but really must remain smart about shot selection.
- This is not the Lakers offense that the league will be seeing in a few months from now. Sometimes, the offense seemed structured and sound, and other times, I swear the guys were just tossing it high in the air hoping Dwight would come down with it. Steve Nash didn't handle the ball nearly enough for someone with his skills, and none of the Lakers could make a free throw. I expect the team to start figuring some of those issues out and fixing them in the coming weeks. The inaugural Miami season also started very slow...
- Gotta mention my boy Eddy Curry, who will probably hear fat jokes made about him until he's 80. He played real well for Dallas: didn't do too much on his post moves, but definitely finished around the basket off a catch or rebound. He's a big body that will help defensively, and if nothing else, has six fouls to give. For a third-string center, his first game was a success.