LOS ANGELES — The same Mavericks team that has been awkward, injured, hard to watch and downright bad at times this season has been getting healthy and playing much better of late. If this is what rebuilding in Dallas looks like, then Mavs fans may not be in for as cold of a couple years as we thought.
For the coach and team, teaching and learning have taken on more significance in a year where – for once in Dallas – it’s not all about winning.
Before the game, Rick Carlisle talked to the media about how he's had to change his coaching mentality this year. “The reason I got into this is that I love teaching the game and I love leading. So, hopefully that’s been a constant.” But he acknowledges that the team is in a different place than in past years.
“As a leader, I’ve got to view this as taking on a different kind of challenge. This is going to be more of a long-term challenge. We want to make this go as quickly as we can. But there are no shortcuts to climbing the mountain. But the steps that you take along the way can be great fun and very memorable, and very meaningful if they’re done the right way.”
With Dirk having been out for a significant portion of the year, he’s also been part of the teaching process, especially with Harrison Barnes. Said Carlisle of Dirk, “He loves helping younger guys. He loves having a guy like Harrison Barnes here who he can talk to about what it was like when he was that age, taking on that kind of responsibility.”
That teaching and learning mentality was on full display against the Lakers, a team that is, in many ways, in a similar place to Dallas. With Dirk out due to an illness, Finney-Smith was again thrown into the starter’s role. With Bogut playing limited minutes, Powell and Mejri had to be ready to step in.
After some strong second half adjustments, Dallas ran away with the game in the fourth on the strength of a true team effort. They got contributions from every player on the court, with five players scoring in double figures.
That’s been a theme lately: they've had four or five guys in double figures in each of the last five games, win or lose.
Wes Matthews, who had 20 points to lead the Mavs last night, was emphatic about the team's potential. "I don't think there is anybody that can stop us when we [share the ball]. We have a lot of guys that can make shots. A lot of guys that can make plays, and nobody in this league can catch up with the ball when it's moving."
"Matthews' big second half really keyed us" Carlisle said after the game. "At one point we came off the floor for a timeout in the fourth quarter and Deron Williams said 'Hey, Wesley is hot, everyone take note, Wesley is hot.'"
Dwight Powell had a great overall game, finishing with 14 points and 6 boards. He commented on the ball movement after the game: "That was fun. It was good to see the guys share it and take advantage of their opportunities and grind through defensively especially as well."
Carlisle added about Powell's night, "he was making a huge impact."
Make no mistake: this team is better with Dirk. The win over the Clippers last Friday showed why. But, even though the beginning of the season has been rough for fans to watch, it's great to know that behind the scenes, these guys are coaching each other up, and making the best out of every win or loss, every bad situation, every teachable moment.
These are the kinds of sentiments and effort that could make one believe this "rebuilding" phase just may be shorter than we all hope.