The Mavs, smart veterans that they are, know they still have something to play for. The Mavs' "kids,'' naifs that they are, know very little except how to go hard with every single (rare) opportunity they are given.
On Monday in Denver, Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell went hard. And fast. And high. And led the Mavericks to a 97-88 victory over the Nuggets, spraying some deodorant on the stench of a four-game roadie lowlighted by three previous stinkaroos.
"These two guys, you know they’ll go hard, unconditionally,'' said coach Rick Carlisle, who pulled the trigger on starting the rookie Anderson along with Powell in part because of the injury absences of Chandler Parsons (knee, done for the season) and Deron Williams (abdominal, groin, resting back home in Dallas). We still need everybody. We’re still alive. We’re still fighting.”
Dallas is 36-38 and battling to remain relevant in the West playoff race. The Mavs are in ninth (but in a tie with No. 8 Houston) and trail No. 7 Utah by just a game. And now they get to come home for a portion of the stretch run, starting Wednesday with a visit from the lowly Knicks.
Of course, we use the word "lowly'' advisedly. Dallas isn't "lowly'' yet ... but we can see "lowly'' from here.
Powell finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Anderson had 11 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Each of them performed second-half heroics that rescued The UberMan from a subpar night.
For Anderson, a momentous put-back dunk of a Dirk Nowitzki missed trey (along with an Anderson 3 of his own) helped Dallas finish the third quarter strong, holding a 72-66 edge. ... all a continuation of his electric night.
For Powell, a dunk was also part of the barrage of points he scored in the fourth -- eight straight points for the "throw-in'' in the awful Rondo trade that leaves Dallas with this highly-coachable 6-10, 24-year-old to provide some hope. ... along with Anderson, this year's first-round pick who at 22 has all season long put on display a personality that makes him a locker-room favorite.
“It was awesome,” said J.J. Barea, who came off the bench to lead Dallas with 18 points and 11 assists. “Everybody was into it. We had a lot of energy on defense. Dwight and Justin gave us great energy. They just go. In this league, if those two guys don’t play, we’re a slow, old team. You put those two in, we’re more athletic.”
And, you put those two in and there is a sort of "hope.'' Not just for the future of the franchise, which comes with question marks -- especially if the Mavs don't make the playoffs. But also "hope'' for the final eight games of this season. Anderson's second start of his career? Powell's first start in his two-year NBA life?
They gave Dallas life.
“When you’re having an energy problem and you’re having a problem defending, you need to get more energetic, better defenders,'' Carlisle said in explaining the move to start the pair. "And I felt right now we had to make the point that anything other than your best effort and best energy is unacceptable.''
That remark has onion layers of meaning. On the surface, it's about the kids (astutely, our Jonny Auping called for exactly this move involving Anderson a couple of weeks ago.) Tucked into the remark is also the suggestion that somebody around here isn't giving "best effort and best energy.'' We'll assume that Rick's comment is about how Powell can leap-frog from all the way from the rear of the depth chart up and over, say, JaVale McGee, and to its fore, and not about some team-wide energy malaise.
Also, maybe this is simply a matter of readiness.
Said Dirk of Anderson: "I think you can see the game slowed down for him a little bit. He doesn't move at 200 miles-per-hour; (now) it's 150."
Added Powell: "We played with a lot of heart ... We have a goal, and that goal is be in the playoffs. And where we are in the standings isn’t where we want to be, so I wouldn’t say we’re satisfied at all with just this one win.”
Interestingly, while the win was satisfying and the energy mile-high against the 31-44 Nuggets, the pace was slow. This seemed purposeful, a way for the coaching staff to have its hand on the steering wheel, a way for any Powell and Anderson errors to be minimized by the number of possessions in the game. And it worked, too, as in the end the Mavs tied a franchise-low with just four turnovers.
“Coming off a back-to-back, we wanted to control the tempo as much as we could and take care of the ball,'' Dirk said. "And it was phenomenal.”
Carlisle (who with this victory moves into 20th place on the NBA's all-time wins list with No. 655) can't really promise more of this in the future, necessarily. But going into Denver, the Mavs had lost 10 of 12. And we don't want more of that in the future, either.
"When everyone believes in you like that, it helps a lot,'' said Anderson of the support given him by the coaching staff and his more veteran teammates. "Both Dwight and I (in DMN photo below), we tried to make sure we told each other to just keep it simple, do what we’ve been doing and bring energy, letting the rest take care of itself.”
Nowitzki will likely be the guy who takes care of Dallas' stretch-run chances but here he finished with 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
"The team rescued me today," Nowitzki said, who then turned to praising the kids (who will likely lead the voting when you select "The Dirkie.'' "We're obviously not a team that's blessed with athleticism. So those two guys were great for us. They're active. They're young. They're quick. It was fun to watch. We need some more of that going down the stretch."