What happened last night?
Well....nothing. Without Dirk, without Marion, arguably their two best players, with Vince Carter limping out of this one early, the Mavericks lost to a still-undefeated and always tough Knicks team by ten points, not exactly stop the presses news.
But, for Mavericks fans curious as to who and what this team could be, it may have been a sobering reminder. The Mavericks followed a high octane 57 points first half with a low chocolate milk 37 point second.
Does this mean OJ Mayo isn't going to light it up from outside and hit some nifty inside shots? Nope. He's not going to shot over 50% all season, obviously, but even when he's struggled, he's been a very consistent three-point shooter. In fact, he still hit 50% last night (5/10), he just took an outlandish amount, didn't go inside enough, and didn't convert enough in there (2/6 inside the arc).
Does this mean Darren Collison isn't all he's been cracked up to be? Well, on some level, sure, but I don't think anyone expected he'd keep shooting 60% either. He couldn't score last night, but his 8 dimes are frankly more important. This team's biggest need, in the absence of Kidd, is a distributor, even more than a rebounder. If you got a bunch of guys who can score 10 but not so many who can score 20, which will be true even when Dirk comes back, somebody's got to get them all the ball. Collison wasn't expected to be that guy. If he is, he can go 1-8 some nights. The guy he replaced, Jason Kidd, certainly did. In fact, J-Kidd was 2-3 last night.
One of things it means is pedestrian, but sad, something all Mavs fans know very well, but have spent some time trying to forget: Tyson Chandler is baller on defense. If you want to know why the Collison and Mayo connection managed 3 makes at the rim, collectively, or why Elton Brand shot pretty efficiently but so rarely (collectively 8-13) it's because...well, because Tyson Chandler is baller on defense. Mavs scored 109, 114, 126 last three games. They scored 64 in the second half against the Bobcats, 57 against the Blazers, 48 against the Raptors. 37 points last night.
For all that, the Mavericks learned some pretty good things last night, too.
First of all, the Mayo-Collison chemistry, the season's biggest, best surprise continues unabated. These two love playing with each other, they seem to love each other. When Collison described how disappointed he was in his performance, last night, Mayo jumped in and said it was on him, for his turnovers. They wrestled for the blame, like they should. Like you want them to. And I don't know how many of Collison's assists were to Mayo, but I don't think "some" is an inadequate guess.
Second, Chris Kaman continues to show that his offense is impressive and real, converting shots around the baset with ease. A driving PG's best friend is a big guy who can convert, and the Mavericks have at least two (Kaman and Wright). When Brand picks it up again, it'll be a whole thing.
Third, Troy Murphy is showing his rebounding chops. We're still waiting to see which Troy Murphy the Mavericks picked up, whether it's back-injury Troy Murphy, who couldn't hit the court the last year and a half for anybody, or whether it's a recovered Murphy who can still rebound with the best of them, but early returns indicate it just might be the latter. His offensive game has not yet materialized, but Murph has played 59 minutes and grabbed 29 rebounds, more or less a board every two minutes. He actually tied with Kaman and Brand as the Mavs' leading rebounder last night, with 7. And the Mavericks outrebounded the Knicks 50-43 and kept up with them on the O-Boards (9-11), a pretty stunning turnaround from a week ago.
Fourth, I don't know about you, but I am not having any difficulty seeing Dirk fitting in with this team. In fact, I can almost see it, out of the corner of my eye. Collison drives and dishes, not to Kaman, but to Dirk. OJ passes up a three, not to Brand, but to Dirk. The ball movement is there, this is an unselfish team. I know we're going to read a lot of godawful articles when Dirk comes back and needs to play himself back into shape, needs to find his spots in this offense. They're going to be about how he's lost a step, they may even be about how he's slowing this team down. It always takes longer for players to get back to form than anybody seems to remember. But, like Nate Silver, ignore the noise, and just imagine.
Guys who can rebound, guys who can defend. Guys who can shoot the lights out and guys who can drive. Guys who are comfortable playing together, who like playing together and know how to get each other their shots. And everyone one of those shots is easier because standing in the middle, taking it all on his shoulders as always, is the single most unstoppable offensive force in the game.
It's going to be pretty good, y'all.
And if Marion, who makes life harder for the games' best players than anyone out there, wants to hurry back too, that would be fine.