The Dallas Mavericks began their post-All Star Break mini-season against Orlando tonight at the American Airlines Center, having enjoyed an extended home stretch with the only Mav involved in the festivities in Houston being Dahntay Jones lobbing a ball to Jeremy Evans.
The Orlando Magic came in to the game on the second night of a back-to-back, having beaten Charlotte Tuesday. As the game began, there did appear to be some lag, as Dallas leapt out to a 9-2 lead in the first three minutes. Orlando would soon catch fire, however, and the first quarter would prove to be a scoring barrage. Dallas would score 42 points (the most to open a game this season), on 65% shooting, with eight different Mavs getting into the scoring column. Orlando would score a modest 30, on a mere 58% shooting. Vince Carter would hit a buzzer beating three, continuing his own personal assault on the league, and foreshadowing what was to come.
In the second, Dallas would hit the half-century mark with 9:36 left until halftime, ahead 51-37. Mike James would hit a wide open three(yes, Mike James), and this game was very much starting to look like a blowout, as Dallas was getting whatever they wanted on the offensive end and simply looked like too much for a young Orlando squad without a go-to, established scorer.
Instead, after scoring 51 points in just under 15 minutes, Dallas would manage four - yes, FOUR - points over the next nine minutes. A Shawn Marion layup and a pair of Elton Brand free throws would be the only offense for the home side, and meanwhile the Orlando Magic slowly crawled back into a game it would have been exceptionally difficult not to get back into. The comeback was aided by 13 free throws in the quarter, which deserves special mention for two reasons.
One, this seems to be a semi-common occurrence for Dallas lately: letting an opponent back into the game in the middle of the game with gobs of free throw tries. Two, it was exceptionally embarrassing considering the Orlando Magic entered the game threatening to set the all time record for fewest fouls drawn per game. For the team to nearly equal their per game total in one quarter is something Rick Carlisle and the coaching staff should emphatically scold his players for. Despite this outburst, a Dirk Nowitzki jumper(with pose) with four seconds left would keep Dallas ahead by six heading into the locker room.
In the third, Orlando would make their first shot and would not let up. Long jumpers for both their bigs, Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson, would continually burn Dallas, and when the Mavs' big men would step out, Orlando would take advantage by slashing to the hoop. The Magic would take the lead at 62-61, and stretch it to six at 73-67, forcing a Rick Carlisle timeout.
The lead would stay at six until perhaps the pivotal sequence of the game: down 79-73 with under two minutes left in the quarter, Dallas would tip an offensive rebound out to the middle of the court. A scramble would see Orlando come up with it, leading to a two-on-one fastbreak and a seemingly easy score that would make the lead nine. Instead, O.J. Mayo would hustle back, block J.J Redick's layup attempt, then tip the rebound away from Jameer Nelson, taking the ball back to the Dallas end, where he would deliver a perfect lob pass to Vince Carter for a dunk. The crowd, already electrified, would reach "sports explosion"(to quote Skin) on a Vince Carter three the next time down. Suddenly, what would have been a nine point deficit was just one point, and a pair of Darren Collison free throws put Dallas back in front.
Clearly galvanized, Dallas would dominate Orlando in the final period, and the bench would lead the way with a balanced attack that included eight points from Brandan Wright and seven from Mike James, as well as another long bomb from Vince Carter, who has entered a white hot zone from downtown over the last few games. The Magic, who had put up a valiant effort to this point, would tumble from this last punch, and would be doubled-up 28-14 in the fourth to balloon the lead to a misleading final score of 111-96, making it appear far easier than it in fact was.
This was a strange game, for lack of a better term. Dallas looked dominant in the first and last quarter, bookending what was a fairly uninspired performance in the middle. The final score does not accurately represent, in my view, what a struggle this thing was, and I would say there is especially a lot of work to do on the defensive end. 44 points in the paint for a jumpshooting squad that might set the record for foul-drawing futility. However, we should give Dallas some credit for in-game adjustments: after allowing 13 free throws in the second, Dallas would allow just three in the second half.
On offense, it's harder to find complaints. Dirk would make his first few shots, and it looked like he was on his way to another vintage performance, but he had a lot of trouble getting the ball in the hoop. It did not appear to be an issue of spacing; he was left open plenty, and got to the spots you're used to see him operate in. He would finish 4-13 with 12 points. Perhaps the week off left his legs a little heavy.
As has been the typical custom, ten different Mavs scored, and the bench providing a huge lift with 54 points. Shawn Marion and Elton Brand would lead Dallas with 17 points, and Vince Carter would be next with 14, including 4-9 from three. Carter also racked up 8 assists(including a sweet behind the back one to Shawn Marion), and the team as a whole was terrific again passing the ball, with 32 assists against just nine turnovers. As I mentioned in the player power rankings, this team has become a fine-tuned machine moving the ball around, and I think Rick Carlisle deserves heaps of praise for this fact.
Going forward, Dallas is in a really weird place. They are playing better, and winning games against teams they should probably beat. Their climb into the playoff hunt remains steep, but is shrinking. Tomorrow is the trade deadline, and unless a mega-trade has been kept under wraps to this point, things do not look to be changing, from a roster perspective. So, I guess, all we can do is sit back and let whatever is going to happen, happen.