- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Coach Rick Carlisle is no longer revealing a closely guarded secret 16 minutes before tipoff.
There’s no mystery about the Dallas Mavericks’ starting lineup these days. Barring injury, there shouldn’t be all season.
The starting five of Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert is working just fine. In fact, it’s by far the Mavs’ most successful lineup after five games, outscoring opponents by 33 points in 66 minutes.
That’s a major change from last season, when Carlisle was constantly tinkering and searching for combinations that worked during Dallas' frustrating .500 season. The Mavs rolled out a ridiculous 23 starting lineups last season.
Carlisle, of course, would much rather stick with a starting five. It appears promising that he’ll have that luxury this season, although the fact that four starters are 32 or older significantly increases the odds of injury interruptions.
“The benefits are you can build consistency,” Carlisle said. “Guys can get an opportunity to get a feel for how to play with each other.
“I want to have consistency. I would love to have a consistent rotation, but not to the point where guys can keep a job by playing mediocre basketball. You can’t have that.”
And that's why the Mavs changed lineups like underwear last season.
The projected starters entering training camp (Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Marion, Nowitzki and Chris Kaman) opened only 12 games as a unit last season and played only 161 minutes together all year. That was partially due to injuries -- most notably Nowitzki’s preseason knee surgery that forced him to sit the first 27 games of the season -- but primarily because of performance.
That group just never clicked. The Mavs were 6-6 when that unit started and minus-26 points with those five on the floor.
Collison and Kaman lost their starting jobs. Collison didn't have the basketball IQ the Mavs need in a starting point guard, and Kaman didn't defend well enough or work with Dirk from an offensive spacing standpoint. Mayo, who struggled mightily as a pick-and-roll decision-maker, never meshed that well with Nowitzki.
Not coincidentally, the Mavs didn't make any real effort to keep any of those one-and-done dudes.
The Mavs acquired players over the summer summer who have quickly proven to be better fits with their superstar, and Nowitzki being completely healthy certainly helps. It’s no coincidence that the Mavs’ top four two-man groups all feature Nowitzki. He’s paired with newcomers in three of them -- Ellis (team-best plus-64 in 117 minutes), Calderon (plus-46 in 105 minutes) and Dalembert (plus-37 in 89 minutes).
“We’re all experienced,” Nowitzki said. “We want to play together. We want to make plays for each other. I think we’ve found a good crew that is experienced and also not selfish and wants to play and wants to win. We can still get a lot better.”
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