Following a heartbreaking loss last night against the state rival San Antonio Spurs, Dallas returned home to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the second night in a row the Dallas opponent would be without their star point guard, as Kyrie Irving would be out with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, for the Mavs, Jae Crowder would start again in place of the injured Shawn Marion.
Despite the absence of Marion, and the poor record for Dallas in what has been a disappointing season, the Mavericks were heavy favorites in this one, as the Cavaliers entered tonight's game once again among the NBA's cellar-dwelling teams, without both Irving and underrated center Anderson Varejao.
At the game's start, however, Cleveland would look like the superior team. Dallas, perhaps spent after a draining, emotional game on national TV the night before, started the game in an awful slump shooting the ball, going 1-11 in the first five and a half minutes and allowing the Cavs to(slowly) build a lead that threatened to reach double-digits. Chis Kaman would break that spell with a basket, having scored all four Dallas points, but this would be all Dallas could muster more than halfway through the first period.
Cleveland, even with the cold streak from Dallas, was not exactly running away from the home team, but did display a surprisingly effective inside-outside tandem with Tyler Zeller spacing the floor and hitting from outside, and Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters slashing to the basket for easy buckets. Zeller, briefly a Maverick on draft night back in July, would score six first quarter points, while his counterpart, Dirk Nowitzki, struggled mightily, missing his first five attempts. Darren Collison would squander the chance to cut further into the Cavs lead in the team's final possession of the quarter, throwing the ball away on an off-balance drive, and the score would remain 24-16 heading into quarter number two.
Collison's replacement at the start of that quarter would be one Rodrigue Beaubois, the fourth year guard coach Rick Carlisle made a point of mentioning to the media before the game as someone on whom the team could look to on a night when the aged bunch might need a lift from younger, fresher legs. Beaubois, who had recently shown signs of a pulse against Milwaukee, had largely been an afterthought in the years, or at least what felt like years, AMJ(After Mike James), but would prove to be the difference this game.
"Roddy B" would score six straight points in one stretch in the second, cutting the lead to one at 33-32, showing surprisingly little hesitation for someone who had been riding the pine for most of the second half of the season. This seemed to be the point where Dallas would retake control, but when the starters re-entered, Dallas once again struggled to get much of anything going on the offensive end, and another shooting slumped allowed Cleveland to regroup and separate. A pair of layups from Dion Waiters, who looked fairly hopeless with his jumpshot but extremely impressive on drives to the hoop(sort of like a much better version of recently departed Mav Dominique Jones), made the lead eight again heading into halftime, the score 46-38.
Finally, in the third quarter, Dallas seemed to find their footing on offense, with O.J. Mayo having his best stretch of play coming during the first half of the quarter, and Brandan Wright, who started the second half instead of Chris Kaman, chipping in as well. Darren Collison, looking to build on a strong performance against San Antonio, also helped fill it up with aggressive looks, and his layup gave Dallas their first lead at 55-54. Dallas and Cleveland would change leads several times as the quarter wound down, with Luke Walton making a startling number of quality basketball plays(startling because I was sure he was either dead or a member of the Bobcats). Also getting into the act was Shaun Livingston, who would hit a nifty turnaround at the buzzer to put Cleveland back in front at 68-67 going into the final frame.
The first four minutes of the fourth would see Dallas charge in front for good and, in the process, give an intriguing glimpse at development from two players who have been teases throughout their times as Mavericks. Rodrigue Beaubois and Brandan Wright combined to score the Mavs first 11 points, putting Dallas ahead 80-72. Beaubois, of course, is the much bigger surprise, and tonight he would look about as good as he's looked all season, showing off a perimeter game and the ability to slash and drive to the hoop. Wright, meanwhile, who has taken ahold of the third big spot on the team lately despite the starts given to Chris Kaman, continued to show his proclivity for scoring around the basket, and was the only big man who seemed able to slow down Tristan Thompson on defense.
Dirk Nowitzki, after a very slow start, would finally get a bit of a rhythm in the game's waning minutes, and both he and Vince Carter would hit long jumpers to bury the undermanned and underpowered Cavs team, who were not short on hustle but clearly ran out of steam down the stretch, without the benefit of their go-to-guy, Kyrie Irving. A double digit lead would be preserved as Chris Wright, the newest Mav, would enter the game and get his first career points on a nice layup, getting a nice mention from the announcing team. What had been a bit of a struggle most of the way would end with the final score 96-86 in favor of Dallas.
Obviously, the story of the game is Rodrigue Beaubois. Roddy led all scorers with 18 points, on 6-10 shooting, hitting 3-5 from three and adding 3-4 from the line. Roddy also added five assists against 0 turnovers, and had a steal, as well as a few hustle plays diving on the floor for steals or out of bounds for loose balls. Simply put, it was a complete game for Roddy, and the kind of performance HE CAN DO ALL THE TIME BUT SOMEHOW DOES NOT. As was pointed out in our MMB email chain, it was tickling to see both Roddy and Collison leading the way for Dallas as Mike James continues to get starts and crunchtime minutes. The bench outscored the starters tonight 60-36.
Exactly what this game means for Roddy...I have no idea. There has been a game here and there where he has shown a spark(the Spurs game in late January comes to mind), but for the most part this has been his worst season and seemingly the end of the line in a disappointing, cliffdive of a career path(in Dallas, anyway). Beaubois had more than a few games last season where he appeared close to turning things around, only to self-destruct and return to the end of Carlisle's bench. Certainly, his prolonged outing tonight was likely more due to the tired legs of the vets who had taken a beating last night in San Antonio than anything else. That being said, it is possible this game gets back into Carlisle's regular rotation. Darren Collison, the other talented guard to fall out of favor with Carlisle, has also played well of late, so it is possible both he and Roddy will see court time together in one of Rick's patented "three guard lineups".
Also seeing significant playing time again is the aforementioned Brandan Wright, who now has seen quality burn in seven straight games, the most for him since the start of the season when Dallas was without Nowitizki and Kaman. It might be possible that Wright, Roddy, and Collison all get a look down the stretch, as all three are set to be free agents and the team must make decisions on whether or not any are worth bringing back.
Milestone watch: Dirk Nowitzki, who notched his third straight double-double despite a cold shooting night(6-17, 13 points, 11 rebounds), passed Larry Bird for 46th on the NBA's all time rebounds list.
Dallas begins a very tough stretch of games Sunday, taking on the Thunder in Dallas, then going to Atlanta Monday for a road game against the Hawks. They play 10 straight games against teams in the playoff hunt, with nine of those 10 currently in the top eight seeds and the 10th being Utah, just on the outside looking in.
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