The Mavericks got off to a slow start on Wednesday night, falling behind by double figures in just six minutes. If this was the only time it had happened, there's any number of excuses that could be used: the early 6 p.m. start, the customary boos that rained down on Dirk prior to the game, or just dead legs from playing the night before.
But the poor play to start was not an anomaly but a part of a trend that has recently developed for Dallas, a trend that is shooting the team in the foot. The same trend that had the Lakers score 31 in the first quarter and had the Knicks up 29-17 at the end of the first 12 minutes.
This is a recent trend. The Mavericks have outscored opponents 27.5 to 26.5 in the first quarter this season, most of it with Samuel Dalembert in the lineup. With Sammy D, the Mavericks outscore opponents by 7.8 per 48 minutes. Throw DeJuan Blair into the mix, and it's just 4.5 per 48.
Now, the lineup becomes even more skewed with Shawn Marion missing time. He's the thread that holds this mediocre defense from falling into the bottom ten in the league and he's the spark plug that can leak out for a fast break dunk to start a 10-0 run.
(That paragraph made me sad. Please come back soon, Shawn.)
Until he returns, the Mavericks are going to have to rely on outscoring opponents to pick up wins. Digging themselves an early hole simply won't do the trick.
The solution: free Sarge James.
The 28-year-old center can usually be found at the end of the Mavericks bench, in uniform but not playing basketball (kind of sums up his whole career, in fact). He's too old to be considered a prospect and too raw to work his way into the second unit, but he is good at two things: being energetic and playing some defense.
Elevate him into the starting lineup, where his inexperience and lack of offense is masked by the other veteran starters. Move DeJuan Blair back to the bench, where his offensive rebounding and scoring makes a bigger impact, instead of exposing his flaws every night against the best starting big men in the league.
James still isn't going to play a huge role -- six minutes to start the first and the third quarters -- but his energy should help those slow starts and his shot blocking will be a welcome addition to break up that layup line that a Monta/Jose backcourt inevitably causes.
And this isn't unprecedented -- starting last January in a game against Phoenix, Sarge joined the starting rotation for a 13-game stretch. The Mavericks went 7-6, but James averaged 14.2 minutes a game, averaging 3.8 points on 58% shooting, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Even better -- the Mavericks allowed 102.2 points per 100 possession while he was on the court, 1.8 points fewer than their 2012-13 season average.
Perhaps his best performance was a 15 minute stint where he scored four points, grabbed six rebounds and added up seven blocks. Wouldn't you know, it was a road game in New Orleans against Anthony Davis & Co.
The Mavericks won that game 104-100.
I'm no head coach, nor would I claim to know better than Rick Carlisle. Maybe Sarge isn't busting his ass in practice like he should be or something -- but knowing what we know of him, I doubt that. Until then, I'm on team #FreeSargeJames. You should be, too.