If you thought a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Cavaliers without LeBron would probably be a snoozer, you would be right. The Mavericks led most of the game, entered the fourth quarter with an 18 point advantage and--after an early comeback attempt in the final frame--Cleveland cleared its bench with about four minutes left.
Besides getting a win that pushes the Mavs' record to 25-10, the team got some crucial rest in the fourth quarter for Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons as a group of mostly reserves was able to grow the lead. That's important with the second game of a back-to-back coming tomorrow in Brooklyn.
Ellis led the Mavs in scoring with 20 points on 15 shots, Nowitzki had an efficient 15 on 12 shots and Parsons and Tyson Chandler both finished with 14 points. Rajon Rondo scored only 8 points after posting 29 in Boston Friday but also recorded 8 assists and played solid defense on Cavs star point guard Kyrie Irving. No Maverick played more than 30 minutes in the early afternoon game.
Irving eventually left the game with back tightness that may have contributed to his struggles and he is expected to miss the team's next game against Philadelphia. With the Cavs' point guard mostly a non-factor against the Mavericks, power forward Kevin Love filled up the box score. Since James went out of the Cleveland lineup with knee and back strains, Love has significantly increased his production.
After putting up 27 points and five rebounds against Charlotte, Love had 30 and 10 against Dallas Sunday. He did most of that damage in the first half as the Cavs managed to keep the game reasonably close with second chance opportunities and cuts to the rim that generated easy looks for Cleveland. Love himself collected six of the team's 12 offensive rebounds. But he had little help Sunday--former Maverick Shawn Marion (13 points) and shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova (10) were the only other Cavs to score in double figures. Reserve guard Dion Waiters missed his first eight shots on the way to a four of 14 shooting performance.
Thanks to a porous Cavaliers defense, Ellis had an easy path to the basket for most of the day. Nowitzki, meanwhile, had one of his better games shooting the ball in recent weeks after a string of poor shooting games since Rondo was acquired from Boston. While Dirk's shot falling is a positive sign for the Mavericks, so too was the performance of a reserve unit that put the game away in the fourth quarter with him on the bench. Richard Jefferson tossed in 11 points and made all three of his three point attempts. J.J. Barea had his first double digit scoring night since mid-December and missed only one of seven shot attempts.
Mavs Coach Rick Carlisle also got 25 effective minutes out of Al-Farouq Aminu, who recently has been buried on the bench. After backup center Greg Smith left the game with a muscle strain Aminu spent stretches of the second half manning the middle next to Nowitzki. He grabbed six boards while bothering Love on the defensive end. Aminu recently has been relegated to spot minutes for defensive substitutions. His shot remains extremely unreliable and as Jefferson has earned a bigger role, Aminu has been the odd man out.
Smith is expected to play Monday against Brooklyn, so it's not certain Al-Farouq will get similar minutes then. But his performance Sunday is a good example of the "stay ready" mentality Carlisle tries to impress on his reserves.
Overall, Dallas got 42 points from its bench unit. Even against a depleted Cleveland team, the Mavericks have to be pleased with the production of a bench unit that has been somewhat maligned since two key pieces--Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright--were shipped to Boston in the Rondo trade.
The Mavericks moved to within percentage points of the division-leading Grizzlies Sunday and will take on the 16-16 Nets Monday night.