The last time the Dallas Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies took the floor against one another in November, the Mavs were a mess, and the Grizzlies won in an ugly affair. Flash forward a little more than three months, and the Mavs are now a totally different team, playing with confidence, energy, and a new swagger, as they took down Memphis 104-100, and moved to 25-36 on the year – just 2.5 games out of the eighth seed, with 21 games to go.
A lot of that newly found confidence, has come from the infusion of youth that Dallas has implemented over the last few weeks. That youth movement came to a head, when Dallas acquired Nerlens Noel at the trade deadline, and right now, it seems as though that move is paying its dividends.
After dealing with the embarrassment and subsequent punishment of arriving late to the team flight to Atlanta earlier in the week, Noel was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time as a Maverick. Noel responded to that new responsibility wonderfully, as he handed in a Dirkie-worthy performance (you vote here!) against yet another top-flight NBA center in Marc Gasol.
For the game, Noel finished with 15 points, two blocks, and a career-high tying 17 rebounds in 35 minutes. It was the kind of performance that will force coach Rick Carlisle in to the good problem of having six starting-caliber players upon the injury return of Wes Matthews, but that’s a question for another time.
"(Noel) did a good job,” Carlisle said. “He was very active. You know, it’s very difficult to out-rebound this team. And when you’ve got a guy putting up 17, it gives you a chance. He was a big part of that, and offensively he was active around the basket. He got to the free-throw line a few times, which was good, so he did a very good job.”
It was no secret that the Mavs desperately needed a jolt of youth and athleticism in the middle. After four games in a Mavs uniform, Noel has provided that and more, and he’s only going to get better.
In his first four games in Dallas, Noel has faced the stiffest competition he could ask for, being asked to check Boogie Cousins, Anthony Davis, Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol, all in a row. There were a few bumps and bruises along the way, but right now, Noel has managed to pass those tests.
A little over a week ago, as our readers are well aware of by now, both Fish and Donnie Nelson called Noel a "Tyson Chandler Starter Kit.'' But after seeing him play for the last few games, I’m comfortable in saying that Noel has the potential to separate himself with that comparison as his career moves forward.
Like Chandler, Noel excels on the boards and defending the rim. But there is something that separates him from Chandler, and that’s his active hands and quickness. That gives him the potential to be a more complete defender than Chandler by the time his career is done.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 22-year old, but under the tutelage of Carlisle, Noel has the chance to be just that in time.
“It felt great,'' Noel said this game and the so-far progress. "The past few games the coaches have been encouraging me to learn the system. Tonight is the most comfortable I’ve felt since I’ve been here.”
Noel wasn’t the only Mavs to have an impact on this game, however.
All five starters for Dallas finished in double-figures, with Seth Curry (24 in yet another stellar offensive performance), and Harrison Barnes (18) led the team in scoring for the third straight game. These two are running neck-and-neck for title of "Mavs Best Offensive Player.'' The case for Seth? Since the All-Star Break: he's at 23.6 points per, while shooting 57 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from the arc.
Yogi Ferrell also contributed 17 points and five dimes, while Dirk Nowitzki had 10 points and seven boards in 29 minutes. With those 10 points, Dirk is now just 38 away from becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to reach 30,000 points for a career, alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Chandler Parsons, who received boos from MFFL, was largely inconsequential for Memphis, shooting 3-of-11 for seven points.
Friday night’s win over Memphis was the first win for Dallas over a team with a record over .500 since February 9 against Utah, and it was as impressive of a win as they’ve had all season long. The Mavs will continue their five-game home stand with another test on Sunday against triple-double machine Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But as we have stated before, the Mavs are a much better team at home than they are on the road, so in the midst of a playoff push, this home stand could not be coming at a better time.