The welcomed return of Dirk Nowitzki was not enough as the slumping Mavericks suffered their fifth consecutive loss in a 89-70 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies. The win now gives Memphis their fifth win out of their last seven games. Dallas was unable to take advantage of their past success in Memphis as they had won 10 of their last 13 matchups against Memphis at the FedExForum before Saturday night. It is the first time that the Mavericks have lost five games in a row since November of 2008.
The loss also set a new season-low in terms of overall point production for the Mavericks. The previous low was 76 points against the Toronto Raptors on December 28th. That statistic also ties a nice bow on the Nowitzki injury as the Raptors game was the first game Nowitzki sat out due to his knee injury.
The Dallas Mavericks got a case of Good News/Bad News on Saturday night. The good news came in the form of Dirk Nowitzki returning to the lineup after missing the previous nine games due to a sprained right knee. The bad news came in the form of Tyson Chandler missing the game due to illness. Chandler toughed it out the previous evening against the San Antonio Spurs but Saturday was too much for the big man to handle. Reports indicated that Chandler was so sick during the evening that he stayed back at the team hotel. This was the second game of the year that Chandler has missed for the Mavericks. He also missed the game against the Golden State Warriors on December 7th due to a stomach bug; Chandler has yet to miss a game this year due to injury.
Nowitzki's influence was felt early as he drew a double-team and he passed the ball out to Jason Kidd for a three-point basket. The geometry of the floor dramatically changes when Nowitzki is on the floor, hence one of the many reasons Coach Rick Carlisle has called him a "Game-Changer." The turnover woes continued as Dallas had turnovers in two of their first three possessions. Coming in to the game, Memphis was the league's best team in terms of creating turnovers. The defense was not sharp as Memphis ran out to a 14-6 lead (which included a 10-0 run) at the midway point of the opening quarter. Dallas finally got their footing as they got stops and multiple Mavericks players stepped up on the offensive end to get the team back into the game. Shawn Marion led that charge and it was good to see Marion's third quarter scoring outburst against San Antonio traveled to Memphis as he was aggressive early and often. Despite the surge, the Mavericks continued to struggle on defense as the Grizzlies took a 31-19 lead going into the second quarter. Marion led the Mavericks with 7 points on 2-4 shooting and 3-4 from the free-throw line.
Nowitzki got his first basket of the night at the 11:34 mark of the game and that triggered a mini-run for the Mavericks to continue chipping away at the Grizzlies lead. Memphis didn't get their first point of the quarter until the 8:34 mark of the quarter and didn't make their first bucket until the 7:50 mark of the quarter. Ian Mahinmi brought his "Windex Game" as he was cleaning up the glass and getting second-chance opportunities. Dallas continued shooting poorly from the field but used the free-throw line as an advantage to keep them within striking distance of Memphis. Zach Randolph took over for the Grizzlies, scoring nine consecutive points, and got his fair-share of free throw attempts. Dominique Jones' strong 4th quarter finish against San Antonio, coupled with a poor shot-selection decision by Sasha Pavlović, led to him getting minutes amongst starters in the quarter. The rookie played aggressively on both ends of the floor and helped get the Mavericks to within 10 points, 46-36, at halftime. Zach Randolph had a game-high 17 points at halftime, he was the only player in double figures. He also chipped in 11 rebounds to record a quick double-double. Nowitzki totaled a conservative 11 minutes through the first half.
Carlisle noticed Jones' effort as he got the start in the second half in place of DeShawn Stevenson. There was your typical ebbs and flows with the rookie, he showed good aggression in getting into the paint but he couldn't finish at the rim and was careless with a pass to Jason Kidd which led to a turnover. Nowitzki drilled a three-point basket that got the offense going but Sam Young answered with a three-point basket of his own. Nowitzki was frustrated with a foul call on him against Randolph at the 8:08 mark and the frustration culminated in back-to-back technical fouls and his ejection from the game. The game got a little weird after the ejection as neither team could score for nearly two minutes. To show the offensive struggles for the Mavericks, JJ Barea's three-pointer at the 4:50 mark of the quarter was their first basket since 8:56 in the quarter. At one point, the Mavericks were shooting 29% from the field. That ultimately led to Memphis building their lead to 21 points. Eventually, the Grizzlies took a 67-48 lead going in to the final quarter.
Ian Mahinmi continued to provide momentum during the minutes he was on the court. His effort and energy got the Mavericks within 15 points at 76-61 but supporting cast couldn't help him out. The Mavericks continued to look like a team that had lost their mojo and confidence. The Mavericks ended up shooting only 32% from the field in the game, which marks a new season-low. The game marked another instance where the bench out-scored the starters 44-26. The Mavericks will need to find a way to right the ship, whether it is a players-only meeting or something else, the team will need to right the ship.
The Mavericks will conclude their road trip in Detroit against the Pistons on Monday. The two teams celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with an early tip-off as the Dallas-Detroit game will tip off at 2:30 p.m. CST.
One significant bright spot out of the game was observing Ian Mahinmi leaving a positive imprint on the game in his limited action. He finished the game with a career-high 17 points in just 21 minutes of action. Mahinmi also chipped in 6 rebounds. It will be interesting to see if his effort will lead to minutes for him down the road.
With Nowitizki's free-throw make in the 7:40 mark of the second quarter, He took sole possession of 24th place on the All-Time scoring list over Gary Payton. Next on the list, Clyde Drexler at 22,195 points. Nowitzki's ejection was only the 4th ejection in his career, the last time it happened was on March 23, 2010 against the LA Clippers. He finished with 7 points on 2-7 shooting from the field in 15 minutes of action.
With the addition and subtraction, the Mavericks went with their ninth different starting line-up of the season as they started Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood. The Mavericks were 2-0 with that line-up last year. It was also the sixth different starting line-up the Mavericks have used in their last ten games.