After dropping two of three games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers in last minute defeats, the Mavericks turned the tables on the Utah Jazz, winning in Salt Lake City on Thursday night by three points.
On Saturday, the Mavs completed their four-game road trip by defeating New Orleans 83-81. The total point differential for all four road games was 10 points, with the Mavs coming home from a 2-2 road trip to face Phoenix on Monday night.
Marion, West, and Odom Carrying the Weight
Troublesome for the Mavericks is that their bench players are scoring much better than the starters. With the exception of Shawn Marion and Delonte West, Mavs starters have suffered from poor shot-making though they have been in position to score a lot of points.
Dirk Nowitzki was rested during the game on Saturday, and team head coach Rick Carlisle says that he will keep last year’s NBA Finals MVP on the bench for three more games. Nowitzki has had some problems with his knee and his conditioning, so Carlisle has chosen to rest him for a week to work on conditioning and knee rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, Lamar Odom is picking up a lot of Nowitzki’s playing time, and after a slow start, he is picking up steam as a player. Coming at a time when Mavs fans were becoming impatient with Odom, Nowitzki’s absence is working out for the best. Odom scored 16 points against New Orleans on Saturday.
Early Season Hopes Reached
The Mavs record is 10-7. Most Dallas realists, including Mavs owner Mark Cuban, began the season saying they would be thrilled if the team would be 10-10 after 20 games. So, why are we not so thrilled?
While it is true that Delonte West has fit into the Mavs scheme splendidly, and Odom is coming around, the other big acquisition during the late offseason, Vince Carter, is out indefinitely with a sprained foot. Along with the unsatisfying scoring performance of Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd, of late, Mavs fans are simply not acquainted with the new team. Yesterday’s heroes are being overshadowed by the performances of the new players on the court.
All in all, this is a good thing, but Dallas knows that crunch time will depend on Nowitzki and Terry, and until they are consistently performing at a high level, things will seem a little shaky.
The Next Three
The Mavs next three games will be in Dallas against the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Utah Jazz. Nowitzki will be a spectator in all three games, and Odom will be tested.
My prediction is that the Mavericks will complete their first 20 games with a 12-8 record, considerably ahead of my early expectations. The surprises came from the great bench play of Ian Mahinmi, the improved center play of Brendan Haywood, and the fast learning curve of Delonte West in running the Mavericks offense.