The Mavs are, so far at 2-1, innocent of all charges of being wounded, physically and emotionally, innocent of all charges of being incompetent and incapable of recovering from the DeAndre Disaster, innocent of all charges of being on the same level with seeming have-nots (like Phoenix, who they’ve beaten) and the seeming have-nothings (like the Lakers, who they’ve beaten, too).
We’re only three games in and there are 79 to go, including tonight’s 7:30 visit to the AAC from the Raptors for Dallas’ home-opener. There will be all sorts of regressions to the mean across the NBA landscape.
But what if Dallas actually makes some “progressions’’ to the mean? What if Dallas might actually be a better team, eventually, than it is today?
The win at Phoenix came against a Suns team that should’ve been emotionally afire in its home-opener led by Tyson Chandler. Sunday’s win at the Lakers was a blowout featuring balance and a vintage Dirk. Sandwiched in between those successes was a loss on the road, to a title contender in the Clippers, who found themselves in a late-game fight even though the Mavs did not play Wes Matthews, Deron Williams or Chandler Parsons in that second-night-of-aroad-back-to-back schedule challenge.
By the way, CP is a go for tonight … on a limited basis.
“You know, my knee feels good to me,’’ Parsons said after this morning’s shootaround at the AAC. "I’m chipping at (coaches and trainer Casey Smith those guys to let me play more. But at the end of the day, it’s their call and I’ve got to go at their speed. But the time that I’m in there tonight, I’ll just continue to shake off the rust and get back in game shape, making plays to put our team ahead.”
Added coach Rick Carlisle: "I’m glad he got a little action under his belt (12 minutes Sunday against the Lakers) before the home opener. I think starting out at home in the home opener, first game of the year that you’re playing, I think that’s a hard thing to ask a guy to do.”
So they won’t ask CP to do too much as they try to overcome their flaws.
Flaws? Sure. Lots of ‘em. Zaza needs some help at center, though the kid Dwight Powell has had his moments inside and although JaVale McGee might someday come to the rescue (or might come to a TV near you via “Shaqtin’ A Fool.’’)
(We enjoyed seeing Dwight take some time today to sit down and milk Holger for info.)
SmallBall has its built-in imperfections, though credit is due Carlisle for playing to the (relative) strengths of his roster by using J.J. Barea and Raymond Felton in the same quintet with another guard. Dirk doesn’t much defend anybody. And I suppose the medical jury is still out on what Matthews and Parsons will become.
But they are already ahead of the expected schedule of some (Dallas trainer Casey Smith is the best in the business) and there is hope that Wes becomes the same 3-and-D stud he was in Portland before the Achilles and there is hope that Parsons becomes the go-to and go-through guy for this offense, a “point forward’’ who can help Dallas win matchups on offense that include letting Deron be a shooter and letting Dirk be a pick-and-popper.
Deron, by the way, is not on a “minutes-limit’’ though Dallas will monitor there. Wes might stay in the 26-28-minute range if possible.
And those numbers, like Parsons’ 12 minutes in his debut, will grow.
Even then, these Mavs won’t crush opponents with straight-up talent. But there is a dynamic nature to this offense’s versatility … if it all comes together.
And while the Mavs wait for that? Dirk can still flip a switch and score 25 points in a game almost without missing a shot, as was the case against the Lakers. (Nowitzki needed 13 shots to score 25 that night; Kobe needed 15 shots to score 15. The Mavs need efficient precision and they employ one of the all-time masters of that craft.)
Ideally, though, Dirk isn’t asked to do that 79 more times. The Mavs talk openly about Nowitzki being this team’s “fourth-best player’’ and I find that preposterous … unless we mean “fourth-best on a given night.’’
Given his history — The UberMan has scored at least 21 points in each of his last 10 home-openers and averaged 27.6 points in that span — he’ll look elite tonight. But ...
Maybe tonight is that night when Dirk is a second banana, with the Raptors in town and blessed with balance and depth, starring DeMar DeRozan. Carlisle termed him “one of the best in the league’’ so Wes gets that assignment.
And maybe it's Wes, who is averaging 9.5 points per game and serving as the guy who causes the Kobes to say “I suck’’ after he guards them as he gets his legs back, who serves as first banana. (Keeping DeRozan from getting his 21 points would help.)
Or maybe the Raptors find their hands full with Deron, who is boxscore-filling with 11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. (He’s also giving up just a turnover a game. More efficiency, as Dallas in the NBA leader in avoiding cough-ups with just 10.7 per game.)
Or maybe … in spurts, for now … it’s Chandler, who by last December had become a powerful force in the 2014-15 Mavs’ drive to 50 wins.
"Balance,’’ said Carlisle, who oversees a team featuring nine players averaging 8.5 points or more per game,’’ will be our calling card.''
I still think there are six teams (including the Clippers) in the West that seem better than Dallas. But the Mavs have, at this very early stage, done all they could to separate themselves from the Suns and the Lakers. And they are a work-in-progress with a chance to establish a bit more of the same against a Toronto team that last year won 49 and so far this season is 3-0 … but got swept by the Mavs in two meetings in 2014-15.
I’m guilty of not having enough faith that such accomplishments might be within this year’s grasp. Happy to admit it. And happy to be, maybe, wrong.