Mavs 109, Lakers 100: First Impressions

Sasha Pavlovic made for an odd Mavs starter, an odd Mavs hero and an odd Mavs postgame spokesman, especially late into the night following Dallas' 109-100 win over the Lakers, when he exited the locker room pulling behind him a gargantuan suitcase large enough for a 10-day-contract temp-service employee to live out of. …

Remember earlier Wednesday, when the battle-scarred Mavs looked forward to the nationally-televised visit from the regal Lakers as "a foxhole moment,'' as Dallas GM Donnie Nelson termed it?

My First Impression? They just made the hole a bit shallower.

Do all of yesterday's problems get washed away in this sprinkle of success? Do you now slam down the phone and laugh when Denver offers you ‘Melo? Do you tell Roddy B to go off and dip his toes in the Riviera and c'mon back when Summer League starts?

Nah, I'm not saying that. It was fun to hear the silence of the AAC's Faker Fans Invasion, all those "loyal'' LA fans who have somehow U-turned a Reverse Dust Bowl Migration from the Land of Milk and Honey back toward the Red River. It was fun to have the Mavs lift themselves to the occasion. It was fun to re-learn that Dallas is capable of these sort of things, hopefully 50-plus times a year.

But I also admit it was odd.

Odd to find myself worrying not too much about positioning myself around Dirk's locker or Kidd's locker … because I wanted to make sure I got an earful of Sasha.

Smile "To keep playing this hard and together like this,'' said Sasha after the Mavs' victory, their first win in seven outings and just their third in a dozen games, "we can beat anybody in the league.''

Hey, yeah, leave it to the always-eloquent Sasha Pavlovic to serve as the scene-summarizing post-game team leader.

No, really, Sasha serves as the poster boy for some of the oddity that this game represented. He was a surprise starter despite being on the last legs of his 10-day tryout contract, and despite wearing a plastic mask to protect a recently busted nose.

In the very first moments of the game, he got hit in the face and re-injured his nose – "I think it pushed it back where it belongs,'' he joked -- but he kept playing and eventually scored 11 points in an unlikely performance that likely keeps him around for another 10 days.

Likewise, the Mavs get to hang around near the top tier in the West, where they believe they belong.

LA's failure at the American Airlines Center gives the Lakers just their third loss in 15 games, a hot streak that comes after having dropped three straight in late December. We're now around the midway point of the 2010-11 season and I'm not enough of a homer to kid myself here; at 31-13, the Lakers probably still join the Spurs as one of the two Western Conference teams of distinction. But …

"A healthy Dallas Mavericks team is a top team in the league,'' said the Mavs' Jason Terry. "An injured Dallas Mavericks team is not so good."

That's legit, right? A three-week stretch during which there's no Dirk, no Caron, no Roddy B and a Tyson Chandler with his head in a bucket … how CAN that be a good team?

Smile One thing that's always sorta good when it's LA-at-Dallas: The Mavs have a decade-long history of relative home success against the powerful Lakers; since 2000, Dallas is now 11-10 when LA visits. But the Mavs had endured three weeks of woe to this point, with Nowitzki missing nine games, starter Caron being lost to season-ending knee surgery, difference-making center Chandler saddled with a stamina-sucking flu bug and projected first-teamer Beaubois still having not participated all year due to a broken foot.

On paper, a game with the Lakers seemed a rather unlikely way to get well, but in the first of the teams' three scheduled regular-season meetings, Dallas overcame an early 11-point deficit to gain its own double-digit lead throughout the late-going of the game.

For years, Dallas management has attempted to construct a roster that could compete with LA. This year's blueprint: the acquisition of the 7-1 Chandler, the re-signing of his 7-0 backup Brendan Haywood and the continued featuring of Nowitzki, all of which would provide Dallas with Lakers-like size and length.

This win, which pushes the Mavs to 27-14, would require Dallas to try a Plan B.

Chandler was obviously still under the weather – he vomited on the sideline throughout the first half -- yet he fought for his six points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals. Haywood was a relative non-factor. And Nowitzki had a subpar offensive game with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

So Dallas used an odd pairing at the starting wing positions, DeShawn Stevenson and Pavlovic.

Who didn't see that coming in training camp?

Stevenson's been a starter for some time but is slumping offensively. Sasha is at the end of his 10-day contract and eight hours before the game, Mavs management was quite non-committal about his future.

"I think he's probably earned another chance,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said in reference to re-upping Pavlovic.

And indeed, Sasha was told before the game that he's sticking with the club. So that huge suitcase – and I mean, really, it was more of a trunk that a suitcase, like the kind travelers used to haul onto a ship to sail across the sea – is simply what he's taking with him for the swing that starts in Chicago on Thursday.

Also ready to travel well, hopefully, is Jason Kidd, who broke from a miserable shooting slump (1-of-14 in his previous two games) to contribute a season-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-8 from the arc. Kidd's all-around floor game was evident in his overflowing boxscore which included 10 assists. his backup, J.J.Barea, made fourth-quarter contributions despite his own personal strife, having just returned to town after attending a family funeral. And Jason Terry and Shawn Marion, both coming off the bench as Dallas' sixth and seventh men, each scored 22.

"I felt that we played our best as a team when those two guys were in that roles," Carlisle said. "We don't have a sixth man, we have two sixth men, really. Those two guys come in the game the same time virtually every night, and they complement each other."
Pau Gasol (23 points), Kobe Bryant (21 points and 10 assists) and Lamar Odom (20 points and 10 boards) all had their moments. Indeed, the Lakers shot 54.3 percent – no way for a struggling Mavs defensive unit to help win a game … unless Dallas itself is going to shoot 55 percent, and 46.2 percent from the arc.

Smile

What happened to LA's defense?

"We were just being lazy,'' said Lakers center Andrew Bynum. "I'm quite sure if you look at the tape everybody is kind of stagnant and just staying still. And we didn't cut off the baseline, and had guys rotating, we were just playing lazy.''

Back on Dec. 27, when Dirk sprained his knee in a game at OKC, the Mavs were second in the Western Conference – and they had the swagger than went with that. Since then, they'd slipped to the No. 5 spot in the West, and not only were many of their key players gone … so was their confidence.
Here comes a little bit of confidence … a little bit of swagger … and any unlikely hero who wants to step on up and help the fellas out of that foxhole.



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