Mavericks remake themselves (again) around Dirk Nowitzki, and this time it might work
Vince Carter made the clutch shot. Monta Ellis led them down the stretch. Samuel Dalembert was the steady hand.
Who are these Dallas Mavericks?
Dallas nearly completely turned over its roster since its 2011 championship – only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain – but the Mavericks have finally found the veterans capable of delivering their first playoff series win since then.
With Carter’s game-winning 3-pointer clinching a 109-108 Game 3 win, Dallas took a 2-1 series lead over the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs. Unlike the NBA’s other potential 1-8 upset, this series isn’t just about whether the top seed blows it. At 49-33, the Mavericks are the one of the best No. 8 seeds ever.*
*Behind only the 2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder and 2007-08 Denver Nuggets, both of whom went 50-32
Dallas wasn’t re-built conventionally. The Mavericks haven’t hit on a first-round pick since 2004 (Devin Harris). Instead, they’ve mined the scrap heap for veteran reclamation projects to accentuate Nowitzki’s unique skills – an uneven process that has resulted in more misses than hits. Rudy Fernandez, Lamar Odom, Delonte West, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Eddy Curry, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Troy Murphy, Derek Fisher, Mike James and Dahntay Jones have all come and gone.
But the veterans who remain are getting it done.
Carter, who led nine teams in scoring, has re-invented himself as a sixth man. He’s no longer tasked with dominating the ball, spotting up more often for 3s. His defense became surprisingly effective in Dallas, remaining decent as he’s aged. And he’s still capable of performing new tricks:
That was Vince Carter's 1st career go-ahead FG in the final 1:00 of a postseason game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 26, 2014
Ellis signed with the Mavericks as an uncontrollable and inefficient shooter, but Rick Carlisle has tamed Ellis’ wildness by better-positioning the shooting guard in the Mavericks’ offense. In the fourth quarter yesterday, Ellis shot 5-for-5 to score 12 points and lead the Mavericks back from a five-point deficit with two minutes remaining.
Dalembert, whose maddening punctuality has remained an issue in Dallas, got it together in the Mavericks’ biggest game of the season. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, Dalembert provided effective defense in a game where both offenses dominated. Dallas allowed 106.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court yesterday and 125.2 with him off it.
And then there’s Jose Calderon, the other addition to the Mavericks’ starting lineup. He threw the inbound pass to Carter and is doing what he always does – making pinpoint passes, shooting efficiently in limited volume and playing matador defense. He’s not a reclamation project. Dallas just recognized his skills when offering him a four-year, $29 million contract last summer. The Mavericks have also recognized his shortcomings, using Marion to guard Tony Parker and allowing Calderon to hide off the ball.
Will all that give Dallas the first-round upset? It would help if Nowitzki, who scored 18 points yesterday after posting 11 and 16 in Games 1 and 2, did a little more, but even that might not be enough.
As good as the Mavericks are – they would have been the No. 3 seed in the East – the game gap between them and the Spurs (62-20) in winning percentage is about as close to the average 1-8 gap as the smallest one.*
*Tie, Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32) in 2010 and Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs.Denver Nuggets (50-32) in 2008
Gregg Popovich is still searching for ways to match up with Dallas, using 22 lineups in Game 3. San Antonio certainly isn’t done.
But after a couple years of relatively wayward years, getting swept by the Thunder in 2012 and missing the playoffs in 2013, neither are the Mavericks.