Yeah, owner Mark Cuban pretty much blew this team up following the franchise’s first NBA championship two years ago. It was thought that Cuban was saving money in order to start buying up superstars in an attempt to not only stay atop the Western Conference but also keep pace with the Miami Heat.
But since knocking off the “super trio” in Miami in the NBA Finals two summers ago, names like Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard are still not playing for the Mavericks. Toss in the season opening delay of Dirk Nowitzki due to knee surgery less than a month ago, and it’s understandable that nobody would think much of Dallas either getting off to a fast start or possibly pushing for a playoff spot next summer.
On Monday night the Mavericks played their second home game of this young NBA regular season. Dallas essentially did the same thing as they did in the first game last Saturday against Charlotte, a team they’ve never lost to.
But this time the Mavs took on the only team, thus far, that has beaten them—the Portland Trailblazers.
The 114-91 victory doesn’t guarantee that the Mavericks are a title contender any more so than the Bobcats victory last weekend. But it does reaffirm what I said before.
Yes, the Mavericks look like a title contender even without who many believe to be Dallas’ best player, Nowitzki.
Realize that for the first time in franchise history, the Mavericks shot 60% in back to back games en route to breaking the century mark in points again and basically leaving their opponent in the dust. And for the second straight game, O.J. Mayo scored 30 or more points with numerous three pointers.
No, acquiring O.J. Mayo during the offseason wasn't as juicy a story as Steve Nash or Dwight Howard to Los Angeles. It sure seems to be working out better though.
And I don’t remember anyone saying squat when Dallas traded for Tyson Chandler during the summer of 2010. Mostly everyone assumed he would simply back up recently acquired Brendan Haywood and that would be that.
Well, I'm sure you remember how that turned out.
Make no mistake: Carlisle knows what he wants in a basketball team and a couple of those things are obvious. He’s going to have depth and he’s also going to play very solid defense, the main reasons Dallas was able to upset a younger and more athletic team from Miami in the finals.
But another unpredictable wrinkle with Carlisle is that he seems to really understand the concept of mismatches while most NBA fans and analysts focus on dramatic stories and destinations for disgruntled superstars like LeBron James or Howard.
Well, a good basketball team is going to beat a good starting lineup just about every time. That’s just basketball, and the Mavericks have a good basketball team, even without Nowitzki.
And Mayo isn't the only guy fitting into this picture early on.
Darren Collison offered his second straight double-double as he wound up with 14 points and 13 assists. And a lot of teams with point guards that put up those kinds of numbers very often just might be considered contenders too.
Chris Kaman, who missed the opening two games along with Nowitzki, has been impressive in the couple of home games he’s played in scoring 16 points in each.
Those points in the paint are not historically a Mavericks hallmark with names such as Haywood and Erick Dampier having resided under the rim for so long. Even Chandler didn’t always score in that range and it begs the question of how exactly Nowitzki’s return will affect the rest of Dallas’ bigs on the roster.
Remember that Elton Brand and a name still gaining in recognition in Brandon Wright are also in the mix here.
Sure, the Mavericks are lacking that “star power” so often dreamed of and written about in the NBA, at least beyond Nowitzki. But sometimes players end up in the right situation with the right cast surrounding them and big things can happen.
Generally, when a team keeps winning games without their best player they start to look like a contender, period. I have never said for how long they might look this part or whether or not they will or will not win a championship.
But I keep realizing that one thing about the Mavericks has stayed the same since most of the championship team was allowed to basically walk away following the victory parade in downtown Dallas.
Rick Carlisle is still the head coach.
Carlisle is no fool.
Many of those who watch him work and share their opinions cannot say the same.
How good will the Lakers end up with Nash already hobbled with a fracture in his leg? And Howard, at least right now, doesn't look exactly like his former self. Is it the back situation? Is it the offense?
And just because Oklahoma City went to the NBA Finals last summer, losing to the Heat, doesn’t mean that they are automatically written in the thing again. Remember that James Harden is no longer bringing those points off the bench like before.
Frankly, I think that everybody has been too quick to write off Tim Duncan and the Spurs over the last couple of seasons because San Antonio should always be labeled a contender for as long as he plays.
But there’s absolutely nothing that points to the Mavericks not being so much as capable of winning a championship.
The Mavs got 42 points off the bench, another indicator of this squad's depth on the roster. Steals and blocked shots are coming at a good clip as well. We've seen these things before.
Yes, the Mavericks are an evolving team without much identity yet and their best player is still waiting in the wings.
But everything about the Mavericks says they are, in fact, a contender. On Wednesday night they will try to maintain that look against Toronto, who has but one win thus far. The Raptors will head to Dallas after chasing Kevin Durant around in Oklahoma City Tuesday night.