It surprisingly wasn't as bleak or cold as I would have expected, since Dirk is the alpha and the omega for Mavericks success since the turn of the century. The success revolved around one lineup that simply blitzed the inexperienced but talented T-Wolves away -- the lineup of Deron Williams-Devin Harris-Wesley Matthews-Chandler Parsons-Zaza Pachulia.
In those 13 minutes, that lineup posted some staggering numbers:
Offensive rating: 111.7
Defensive rating: 52.4
Net rating: 59.3
That lineup killed it. The Mavs were down 84-74 with about six minutes and change left in the fourth quarter. They not only tied it but had a chance to win it before continuing with the lineup in overtime and proceeding to run the young Wolves off the court.
This lineup doing well (hopefully) means a couple of big things.
Parsons is the key to the present and the future
Obviously, a lot has hinged on Parsons ability to recover from a nasty off-season knee surgery. The rehab was understandably slow from a hybrid microfracture surgery -- something that has halted progress on plenty of careers.
We've seen glimpses of his old self in recent weeks, and playing as a small-ball four on Wednesday really brought some extra juice to his game. It seems odd to think of Parsons performing better without the greatest floor-spacing big of all time on the floor, but the small-ball lineup worked because it let Parsons be productive even with limitations.
Parsons is the key to this lineup. Without his playmaking, too much of a burden shifts to Deron Williams who simply doesn't have the gear to get to the rim consistently. Parsons at the four gives other teams questions on what to do in terms of defense -- it allows Parsons less time against another team's top perimeter defender or a potential mismatch against a slower big.
Minnesota largely matched Dallas with a small-ball lineup of their own but they simply don't have a perimeter wing who can create. Rubio is limited with his jumper and Wiggins can't facilitate an offense at this stage of his career.
Playing in the small lineup without Dirk meant Parsons had the ball in his hands a lot more. He was also allowed to move more freely around the court. I've long detested possessions where Parsons hangs out on the perimeter only to get the ball late in the shot clock and find himself having to work a high screen and roll against a largely unmoved defense. He's not that type of guy.
Get Parsons moving away from the ball and give him the ball in motion or against a slightly off-balance defense and his game changes tremendously -- and you start to see the benefit of his gifts.
When you get Parsons going with plays like this, it really raises other aspects of his game as well. He later knocked down a three in the corner off a shooter's touch, which for Parsons is a pretty big deal considering how flat his shot is.
With the small lineup, the Mavs were able to run more and Parsons got a a nice bucket in the secondary break. In overtime, Parsons was even able to work a nice two-man game with Zaza, who has proven to not be the kind of big man Parsons needs to thrive.
With no Dirk on the floor, the Mavs were more or less forced to go in a different direction offensively. With no post-ups for Dirk, that meant Parsons had more opportunities to play with the ball in his hands. He's a streaky player and it's hard for him to go possessions without seeing the ball to all of a sudden being productive. The small-ball lineup allowed Parsons to continuously be part of each possession, whether it was as a facilitator, scorer or just a ball-mover.
Nobody loves Dirk taking over in crunch time in the post more than me, but Dirk isn't 28 anymore. He's 37. His shooting has started to fall off a cliff in December, he's averaging over 30 minutes a game and oh yeah, his knee is flaring up. The less burden they can put on Dirk the better. That will only make the Mavs feel comfortable as Dirk nears closer to retirement. This lineup made me feel better about the Mavs building around Wes and Chandler going forward, not necessarily building around Dirk.
The Mavs weren't overmatched athletically for once
Small ball isn't a secret, as every NBA team is looking for ways to play more four-out basketball. Almost every team in the league has a pet small ball lineup, and the Mavs have forever looked woefully outmatched every time a team employs theirs. As great as Dirk is, at this stage in his career he is a small ball headache for the Mavs -- he can't even pretend to be a rim protector and he can't be hidden on the wing as much as he's used to. That's why it was so nice to see the Mavs just stick to their big lineup guns against the Celtics and win on Monday.
With no Dirk however, the Mavs had the freedom to go small without worry about trying to fit Dirk on the floor as well. For the first time in a long time I saw a Mavs lineup that wasn't hindered by trying to hide Dirk on defense. The Mavs ran hard with this lineup and defended extremely well.
With a big backcourt in Williams and Wes and with Parsons being just big enough to handle himself defensively closer to the paint, the Mavs don't have a glaring weak spot when they match up small. Sure, Zaza got himself torched against Karl Anthony Towns but Wiggins couldn't do much against Wes in crunch time and overall the Wolves just seemed flummoxed against this Mavs unit.
It was wonderful to see Zaza grab a rebound and all four Mavs sprinting the other way. Devin Harris seemed like he was in hyper-speed.
This is coming against an athletic team that prayed on the Mavs just a week ago as Dallas had to slog out a win. Almost any team with youth and athleticism gives the Mavs fits. For once, they found a lineup that negated that.
Parsons holding his own at the four unlocks new roster-building opportunities
If Parsons can prove that this lineup was no small sample size fluke, it allows the Mavs to move on from the Dirk era with more possibilities than before. They can perhaps not worry about replacing Dirk's spot so much as finding a better fitting big than Zaza (Dwight Howard? Al Horford?) and then maybe find a combo front court player to fill the minutes gaps off the bench or in spot starts against bigger teams (a Darrell Arthur type).
That's getting ahead of ourselves, but Dirk won't be around for much longer. It's nice to know if Parsons can keep making progress, this type of lineup can help somewhat soften the blow of Dirk's eventual retirement.
Parsons is the key now and perhaps a few years from now.