All-Access: Mavs Turn The Page
FOREWARD (AND BACKWARD) ...
We've waited. In the wake of season laid to rest, a playoff berth fluttered away through frustration and disappointment. Through an offseason that dawned over anxiety laced dances with Dwight Howard and meandered to something far different. Through dreams of what could be, and what has become. We've waited.
We wait no more. In fact, hell, if we sit around and bask in Wednesday's success for too long, we'll miss Thursday's practice!
Wednesday night, the 2012-13 season opened for the Dallas Mavericks, hosting the Atlanta Hawks, and a new journey began … doing so in spectacularly entertaining fashion, with a 118-109 victory.
There were obvious warts – turnovers and defense, for example – and there were displays of offensive fluidity missed a season ago. Those things were certainly the themes inside the Thursday workout. But there is no doubt: Whether or not this return to offensive grace translates into more wins remains to be seen, but already promises a much more appealing brand of basketball.
BEGINNING AT THE END …
It's only one game, the first of 82. We know it can ultimately mean so little, yet it's hard to refrain from the sneaking enthusiasm found in watching so much of what we hoped for unfold just as envisioned.
Don't feel odd if you as a fan are dealing with a certain level of giddiness. Your team is feeling the same thing.
Perhaps this can be described best by looking at the fourth quarter, an area last year's team struggled so mightily in.
Dallas entered the fourth up by seven points and with 8:55 to play found their lead trimmed to four. The game was nearing the "clutch," treading closer to where so many wins seem to slip away a season ago.
With Monta Ellis in firm control of the offense (more on Ellis to come), Dirk Nowitzki sat from 7:09 to 5:04; the lead at eight when he checked back in. This was where the experience and basketball-IQ of Jose Calderon was meant to take over, where Ellis was to combine with Dirk to form a deadly two-man attack.
These were the moments to put the game away.
With 2:04 to play, Calderon initiated the play, finding Ellis on the move. Ellis curled around a Dirk screen, drew the defense in and kicked to an open Nowitzki with ease … somewhere a Hawks fan screamed at his television, "How in the hell do you leave Dirk that open," as the ball found nothing but net.
On the next Mavs possession, an echo: Ellis using a Dirk screen, kicking the ball back to one of the deadliest scorers in NBA history for an open look just behind the arc … same result.
Lead up to 13.
"Monta is sensational in those pick-n-rolls," Dirk said, "coming off looking aggressive to score or if he doesn't have it he's finding the open shooters and that was fantastic."
Next Mavs possession, Calderon wheels the ball around to Ellis for an open three … lead to 16.
"They (Dirk and Monta) were causing a lot of situations that were tough for Atlanta to deal with," Rick Carlisle said, "shot-making was there at critical times, and we were able to get a bit of a cushion when we were getting stops and we were moving the ball on offense."
In the fourth quarter alone:
Dirk with nine points, Ellis with seven points and four assists, and Calderon with five points and two assists.
MONTA HAS IT ALL IN DEBUT ...
We'll get the ugly out of the way quickly. Ellis committed seven turnovers and had some questionable shot attempts … though it's hard to be too upset by the shot attempts when he finished the game 11-of-17, or 64.7 percent.
For now, we'll look at the turnovers through the prism of a player in his first regular season game with a new team. It should get better as players become more familiar with each other.
Now, for the good … just about everything else.
Ellis finished with a game-high 32 points to go with eight assists, four rebounds, two steals and got the free-throw line eight times, hitting all of them.
When attacking the rim, he was at his best. Yes, there were the turnovers on some forced passes, but there was also a plethora of good. Ellis took six of his 17 shots in the paint, converting four, and continued to display a blend of speed and finishing ability that's been rare to the Mavericks' roster.
Ellis was named the Player of the Game in the arena, and likely knocked more than a few fans from the fence about his arrival. (Most importantly, he is running away with "The Dirkie.'') You can moan about the turnovers and a few of the shot attempts – it's unlikely he'll go 4-of-5 on attempts just inside the arc too often – but it's hard not to be impressed by his overall performance.
No Mavs player finished a game last season with at least 32 points and 8 assists … Ellis did so in his debut.
There were only 23 instances of a Dallas player attempting at least eight free throws a season ago, four of those being Dirk … Ellis did so in his debut.
As far as Dallas Mavericks introductions go, this was a very good one.
And as far as high expectations?
"I can hold up to them,' he says. "You'll see.''
THE UBERMAN REMAINS UBER ...
Perhaps it can be a little disconcerting to look at the boxscore and see that Dirk attempted the third most shots on the team, but as described above, the ball did find him in the fourth quarter, where his six attempts were twice as many as the next guy (Ellis with three).
Dirk finished with 24 points, 8-of-14 attempts, 4-of-6 behind the arc, five assists, four rebounds and only one turnover.
This was vintage Dirk.
Combine MontaBall with UberBall and what do you get? Ellis/Dirk played 23 minutes together, and in that time had a 122.1 Offensive Rating, an 81.6 Defensive Rating, shot 57.1 percent and was +24 (the team's best 2-man plus/minus).
Maybe this can be vintage Dirk/Monta.
THE SIXTH MAN AND THE MATRIX ...
Vince Carter finished with 21 points on 9-of-16 field-goal attempts and helped lead the bench to 41 points as a group, compared to 32 for Atlanta's unit.
Carter and Shawn Marion showed the same form we saw from them a season ago (Marion: 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6-of-9 field goals, two steals, one block), as they continue to deny the encroaching hands of time.
THE CENTERS ...
Samuel Dalembert played just under 27 minutes with only one foul, and ended the game with four points, nine rebounds and one block.
DeJuan Blair played 21 minutes, contributing nine points and five rebounds (all five coming at the offensive end), and drew a complementary tone from Carlisle after the game.
"The other guy who I though really stepped up was Blair. We really needed someone to rise up at the backup center position and lay claim to it. This is by far the best he's played," Carlisle said.
THREE-SECOND OBSERVATIONS ...
*Shane Larkin (ankle) continues to run, jump, shoot and dunk in practice. Before the Wednesday tip, he engaged in an hour-long on-court warmup. He spent Thursday continuing to prepare by engaging in some one-on-one play with Ricky Ledo ...
*It probably helps keep the fellas loose when Michael Finley comes down to the floor and puts on his type of show. The combination of Fin and Darrell Armstrong at practice keeps the energy up.
*Ellis played a fair amount of point guard in this game. Gal Mekel (two points, three assists, 2 turnovers) played just under nine minutes and acted as the sole true backup at point guard. There were also moments that saw Ellis share the point guard duties with Calderon on the court. Until Devin Harris and/or Shane Larkin return, this may be something we see a lot of.
*The Mavs won the rebounding battle, 42-33. And, Blair had as many offensive rebounds (5) as the entire Hawks team.
*How do you win a game in which you turn the ball over 20 times, leading directly to 26 points for your opponent, while also allowing your opponent to hit 48.7 percent of their shots?
You hit 57.1 percent of your own attempts, including 64.9 percent in the second half … as Dallas did in their opener.
CUBAN POKES DWIGHT ...
In a small media cluster, Mavs owner Mark Cuban took a big swing at humor.
And at hyping up Mavs-vs.Houston.
"Obviously, (Dwight Howard) made a mistake in judgment," Cuban said. "Do I blame him? No, that's what young kids do. They make mistakes in judgment."
Cuban was grinning that familiar Cuban grin when he said this. He was more serious when discussing his position that Howard should have chosen a franchise rather than a roster. We've discussed that concept dating all the way back to the Deron pursuit, and it doesn't matter if Cuban thinks this as long as the "young kids'' he is recruiting think differently.
The owner offered to the media group his serious view about "the right organization'' before once again falling back on one of his old-standby lines in attempting to combine hype and humor.
"Like I say about every other team, I hope they suck,'' he said. "I say that every year. It's nothing personal. I still like Dwight as a person. But I still want the Rockets, like every other team, to have a horrible season. It's nothing personal. I just want them to suck."
MONTA LIKE JET? ...
Dirk handled an interesting question with a long-form answer. The Q: How do Monta and Jason Terry compare off the pick-and-roll? The A:
"Well, Jet is a little bit of a different player. Jet's a great shooter, but Monta is so explosive coming off the pick-and-roll. If the 4 or the 5 that's guarding me shows a little late, he's usually getting around them and getting to the basket and making all kinds of stuff happen for us. He's so quick off the bounce and he's so quick with the ball and that's a huge strength. He's just shot the ball so well tonight and so that was helping his drives out."
THE FINAL WORD ...
It's easy to get carried away in the emotions of a good win that was extremely entertaining to watch, to feel the frustrations of last season shoved away in a quick burst of fluid basketball. It's easy to revel in the good after a win when there are no losses to anchor it to something less pleasant.
The turnovers are a point of concern. Without such uncommon efficiency on offense, their ugliness could stand much bolder, and with much more clarity.
When the game begins with great ball movement beginning with Ellis to Calderon and quickly to Dirk for the Mavs first two points of the season, it's easy to look past a defense that rarely was able to impede the Hawks offense (though the Mavs turnovers certainly played a role in aiding Atlanta there).
The season has only just begun. As Dirk joked, "We're not going 0-82, so that's great.'' It's time to brush away the frustrations of a season ago and enjoy the promise this game sought to whisper so sweetly into our basketball brains … this is something new, and hopefully something better.
Regardless, it should be so much prettier to behold ...or, at least, that's what the Mavericks were able to tell themselves at a Thursday practice in which they had to turn the page.
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