Meanwhile, at that time, Orlando was mired in self-doubt, so much so that it revamped Dwight Howard's supporting cast with a blockbuster trade while mired in a streak during which the Magic lost eight of nine.
Suddenly, with Saturday's 117-107 Orlando win at Dallas, the Magic has matched a franchise-best winning streak of nine. Meanwhile, the Mavs closed out a homestand having dropped five of the last seven – and are trudging along with that lousy 2-5 record while star Dirk Nowitzki nurses a sprained knee.
""Dirk's not here,'','' said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who was ejected from the game for protesting a non-call. "So let's not talk about him.''
The Magic (25-12) have clicked since the Dec. 18 trade that brought to town Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark. And they kept on clickin' on Saturday with a notable eight players scoring nine points or more.
Meanwhile, the Mavs – despite their overall record of 26-9 – are in somewhat of a Dirk-less downer. Dirk-less disarray? Dirk-less disaster? That would overstating the situation, because Dallas did enough things to remain competitive here, including earning a 16-point first-half lead, matching a season-high for first-half scoring with 57, and making 54 percent of its shots.
DeShawn Stevenson in particular filled the void (of the out-for-the-season Caron Butler, anyway), by totaling a season-best 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He made 6-of-9 treys while starting at the 3 spot.
Nobody, though, is quite able to fill the void left by Nowitzki on the offensive end … and that doesn't even begin to address the defensive problems here for a Mavs team that permitted Orlando to overcome the early deficit, eventually gain its own 20-point lead and shooting an absurd 53.9 percent for the game.
Dallas' gameplan was Howard-centric in the sense that the Mavs ancitipated his interior dominance (9-of-16 for … points, with 13 rebounds). But Howard's presence also allows the Magic to spread the floor with shooters … and the Mavs never quite chased all of them down. One of a handful of big turnaround sequences for Orlando came when it closed the first half on a 17-7 run to move than 16-point hole to just a 57-51 deficit.
Orlando was also helped by the passing of Hedo Turkoglu, who recorded 17 assists.
"Hedo was great tonight passing the ball,'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Seventeen assists for anybody is incredible, but a 6-10forward with 17 assists, that's a phenomenal, phenomenal game. He made a lot of plays for us.''
So this wasn't like the previous meeting on Dec. 21, when the Mavs (healthy but for the absence of prized kid Roddy Beaubois) traveled to Disney World and handled the locals, 105-99.
Now it's the Magic that can seemingly count on scoring 105 in a game – during this nine-game run they've 107.6 points per game.
And the Mavs?
They are struggling for consistent answers on offense; the Mavericks came into this game shooting 43.3 percent and averaging 89.8 points without Dirk – nearly 10 points less than what they did with him. They have problems even at home, as this is Dallas' fourth defeat in five games at home – about as poor a stretch as the American Airlines Center has ever seen.
It's not a Dirk-less disarray because the effort is there and the problem is obvious. It's not a Dirk-less disaster because Nowitzki is planning to return to action next week as the Mavs hit the road.
So what about Rick's quote ... "Dirk's not here, so let's not talk about him''?Carlisle had pretty much a dozen of his players violate that bylaw in the postgame locker room.
Because really, when the Mavs don't have Dirk Nowitzki available?