After briefly falling out of the playoff picture, the Dallas Mavericks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night, and -- thanks to a Memphis loss -- elevated themselves back into 8th place, with a very important matchup looming against the Grizzlies Wednesday night.
A red-hot Dirk Nowitzki finished with a team-high 23, and an efficient Monta Ellis was right behind him with 22. Dallas also saw key contributions from an apparently motivated Samuel Dalembert (18 points) and the man who is quietly winning my heart, Devin Harris (16 points).
Kyrie Irving did his best to help his team keep pace, with 27 points and some highlight-quality baskets, but the Dallas offense was clearly too much for Cleveland, as the Mavs eclipsed 120 points for the fourth game this season.
After shooting 2-19 from behind the three-point line on Friday, Dallas remembered that chicks did the long ball, and poured in 12 of 26 from deep tonight.
A comfortable win against an opponent a playoff team should beat, this was nevertheless satisfying, as Dallas has a little bit of momentum as they travel to Memphis for a game that holds about as much as importance as an early-February meeting can.
Prior to the reports that surfaced recently about rumored dysfunction in Cleveland, one had to wonder how a team with such an ostensibly talented roster could lose six of their last seven games (including a game two weeks ago tonight against Dallas), and four straight entering tonight. In the preseason, this was a franchise pegged as a possible sleeper playoff team, and this was before (a) we knew just how bad the East was this year, and (b) they traded the basketball equivalent of feces for All-Star forward Luol Deng.
Early on, the Cavaliers showcased their exciting offensive potential, as they made their first three shots (prompting a very quick Rick Carlisle timeout), and halfway through the quarter all five starters had at least one field goal. A back-and-forth shooting display kept the game close at 27-25 in favor of Dallas after one. Most noticeable was Samuel Dalembert, who threw down several loud dunks early and, if I may meander briefly, is really cultivating a weird Jekly and Hyde status as a Maverick, by being either demonstrably active or completely and totally invisible.
In the second, Dallas pushed their advantage into double digits with a 13-2 run at the midpoint of the quarter, fueled largely by eight straight points from Dirk Nowitzki, who had 16 by halftime. The first half lead for Dallas reached as high as 13, but the Cavs managed to whittle that down to seven at the break. Given the disparity in shooting percentages (54% to 43%), rebounds (22 to 16) and assists (13 to 8), Cleveland probably felt thankful to be down only so much.
The third quarter, which has often been catastrophic for Dallas this season, finally played out to Mavs' advantage tonight. Cleveland started out hot, cutting the lead to two at one point, but from then on Dallas dominated, making 11 out of 13 shots over the course of the next five and a half minutes. A Brandan Wright free throw made the lead 15, and Dallas was within earshot of the century mark at 94-79 entering the final frame.
Though Dallas wouldn't exactly stop Cleveland on offense, the game would not be threatened in the fourth quarter, as Dallas continued a steady offensive attack, scoring at least 30 points for a third straight quarter. Eight different Mavericks would score in this period, and the lead would not fall below 11 points. As the final gun sounded and the players left the court, it was refreshing to see smiles on the faces of rested Maverick veterans.
- Dirk finishes out a spectacular four-game homestand where he shot 59.7% and averaged just under 31 points and 10 rebounds a game. He was 8-16 from three and also a perfect 29-29 from the free throw line. Can this man please play forever?
- Monta continues to be a good news-bad news guy of late: 22 points on 8-12 shooting being obviously terrific, and six turnovers and five fouls less than ideal. Jose Calderon opted for the "less is more" strategy, scoring 11 points on 4-7 shooting, but dishing out 10 assists against just a single turnover.
- Going back to Monta, it may be my imagination, but I do get the sense that we're starting to see a little extra hustle from him on the defensive end, if at least for spurts. Ellis has had a couple of chasedown blocks the last few games.
- Samuel Dalembert had some extra pep right from the opening tip. 18 points on 7-8 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 0 turnovers, along with just a pair of fouls in 25 minutes, all represents one of his most mistake-free games of the season. It was just the second time since November that Dalembert reached double-digits in points, and only the third time all year that Sam has played at least 25 minutes and been whistled for two or fewer fouls. While in these teams' previous meeting two weeks ago the Cleveland frontcourt of Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao combined for 31 rebounds, tonight they totalled just 13. Dalembert pulled down four offensive boards tonight, which was more than he managed in total boards two weeks ago.
- Having firmly grabbed the helm of the second unit, Devin Harris is quickly becoming as indispensable as any Maverick not named Dirk Nowitzki. Harris reaches a new season high of 16 points, on 4-8 shooting and 4 assists. It may not read as the most thrilling line, but Harris' impact on the game is clear. As mentioned during the broadcast by Mark Followill, Harris excels at pushing the tempo, and his aggressive nature, combined with a first step that -- even as he nears 31 -- is still pretty deadly, Harris has been invaluable in creating easy point opportunities for a team that can sometimes rely too much on the outside shot. Specifically, Harris has been getting to the free throw line at a stellar rate, as he sits at 27 free throw attempts against 50 field goal attempts on the year. It's a very small sample size, but that ratio would place him among the NBA's league leaders.
- More on Harris: if there were two knocks on Devin, they might have been his poor outside shooting and his propensity for turnovers. So far, however, Devin has committed just three turnovers in his eight games, and he's shooting 33% from deep. While 33% isn't great, obviously, it's acceptable when you consider his understanding of shot value. Nearly everything he takes is either right at the basket or behind the line(and usually wide open), which happen to be by far the two highest-value shots in the game. This allows Devin to consistently post above to well-above average true shooting percentages, year after year, despite being fairly unspectacular as a shooter. In short, Hal Brown is right, this guy is great and I'm ready to see how he handles an even larger role.