DB.com Live In LA: Mavs 99, Lakers 91
The stage had been set for months.
Mavs vs. Lakers.
Dirk vs. Kobe.
A support cast of other teams' castoffs versus a cavalcade of other teams' stars.
But then Dirk pulled up lame, leaving that band of castoffs to fend for themselves in Staples Center. The result seemed academic even before the tip – the castoffs would get slaughtered.
Until something strange started to happen: the castoffs made things interesting.
And then the Dallas Mavericks won, a 99-91 triumph that made next to no sense on paper but goes into the books as a giant feather in the cap of Rick Carlisle as Dallas looks to piece together a new normal from its disparate parts.
"It's a great win," Carlisle told the media. "If you execute in this league and have talent, you have a chance to win and we did that."
"We were opportunistic tonight and got the job done."
It's tough to ascertain where, exactly, to begin – where to start when nine players crack the 15-minute mark and six of them reach double figures in scoring. Who to praise when perhaps the most efficient shooter in the NBA is shelved, and yet the Mavs' shooting percentage hovered at 50% for much of the contest. How to distribute plaudits when Dallas as collective doubled LA's free throw percentage; when they nearly broke even in the rebounding battle without their starting power forward and center; when they turned the ball over three times less than the latest supercharged offensive juggernaut. What to say about one of the more balanced efforts we've seen from a Mavs team in some time.
"Everyone came in and contributed; that's what it's about," said OJ Mayo, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. "The league is pretty much transitioning to a team effort. It's about how deep your team is and how many good players you have to put a team together."
Dallas showed that kind of depth on Tuesday, and perhaps the best place is to start with where the ball itself does: at the point. That's where one of the bigger mismatches of the night was supposed to occur, with the Lakers' resident Ph D in offensive playmaking Steve Nash going up against Darren Collison, whose command of the floor has vacillated between a high school senior and a college junior's at different points in his young career.
Yet on Tuesday Collison was the one leading class, churning out a team-high 17 points on a hyper-efficient 8-of-12 shooting. To be fair, the results sometimes looked a lot better than the process behind them; there were several occasions where the 25-year-old took a jumper early in the clock or pressed his luck on the short side of an uneven break. But the thing to take away from it was that things happen when Collison's in the game, largely because he forces opposing teams to account for his speed in transition. A scant four assists won't have anyone forgetting about Jason Kidd just yet, but the threat DC provides on the offensive end certainly took some sting out of the 39-year-old's departure.
"That's what I was brought here for, my speed and my quickness," Collison said. "I try to get into the paint as much as possible."
Then there was what happened when he left the game, when Roddy Beaubois played in his stead. By now, we all know the story of what to expect with Roddy: nothing, particularly when he handles the backup point duties. And yet, at the risk of telling too much of the story with numbers rather than words, there's this:
Beaubois played 17 minutes on the evening. He put up 12 points, five assists, and a steal. Do the math and it averages to a positive contribution every minute he was on the floor.
"He might have been the key guy in the game," Carlisle gushed. "Tonight, I thought he showed what he's capable of doing at the point guard spot within our system. And he and Darren, they are going to cause problems for teams with their speed and their tenacity."
Speaking of surprises, none ran – or arguably played – bigger than the makeshift three-headed monster of Elton Brand, Brandan Wright, and Eddy Curry. It was there that the Lakers were to make hay, with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol asserting their will after three guys who have all been on the street in the past couple of seasons.
Ultimately, they did edge Dallas in the rebounding battle, but only by a hair, 23 to 20, with Brand alone wrangling 11 hard-earned boards. Yet it wasn't about who filled the stat sheet; instead, it was about working together as a unit to offset their physical disadvantages
"We really wanted to gang rebound tonight and that was our goal," said the 34-year-old forward. "We believed and that starts with Coach.
"Coach told us to go in there and kick their butt."
"It was going to have to be a collective effort against a frontline like this," Carlisle conceded. "Everyone had each other's backs, and we played it out."
There was so much more. Like Jae Crowder, whom Carlisle paid the high praise of labeling "a winning player," drilling a pair of big threes and moving here, there, and everywhere on D.
Or Shawn Marion, the guy Carlisle pointedly declared the team's best player with Nowitzki, doing his usual board work and solid D – only with a pair of turn-back-the-clock dunks in traffic to boot. Vince Carter overcame a 1-for-6 start to finish 5-for-12 from the field, powered by that jumpman J to remind everyone that he once was capable of trading buckets with Kobe mano a mano. Even Mayo, sometimes scuffling in the city where he played is college ball, looked the part in spurts with a combination of athleticism, ballhandling and deep shooting range that this team hasn't had at off guard in an achingly long time.
But the most impressive quality on display came from the discipline Rick Carlisle instilled within them – to stick to asssignments, to play for each other, and most of all, to scrap.
"Dirk is out, Kaman is out, we're going to have to scrap [and] we're going to have to fight," Brand declared.
"Rick's been saying it since the first day of practice: if we're going to beat teams, we have to be a scrappy team and I thought we showed that," Collison said. "We're not the biggest team, but it's not about how big you are – it's about how hard you play and how much heart you have."
That heart will be tested again in just under 24 hours as Dallas takes on the Jazz in Utah, a place that's well-documented to have caused its fair share of heartburn for the Mavs. They will once again be without Dirk and Kaman, once again pitted against a talented front court that runs several names deep.
The recipe for a win, then, remains the same. "Effort and energy," Marion said. "It's amazing what happens when you go out there and play hard and compete."
Just one game into the season, Dallas has proven that maxim's weight in gold.
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