The schedule was unkind to the Dallas Mavericks in November as they played 16 games in 30 days. It certainly had an effect on Vince Carter, who turns 37 next month. As the schedule has eased up, the team has been able to rest and Carter has improved.
As Dallas was struggling early in Saturday's game against the Chicago Bulls, Carter stepped up and set the tone for the team as he scored 14 of his 18 in the first half. With 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting in a 105-83 victory against the Bulls, Carter had his fourth consecutive game scoring in double figures. More important, Carter is back in a groove.
"We had to match [Chicago's energy] from the beginning," Carter told ESPNDallas 103.3 FM after the game. "We wanted to hit first because we knew they were going to hit us."
More important than the schedule easing up, Brandan Wright has returned and his mere presence on the court has done wonders for Carter's game. Carter has scored in double figures in six of the seven games since Wright's return. With Wright back in the fold, it is apparent that the connection between the two former North Carolina Tar Heels is real.
During the 16 games in November, Carter averaged 10.0 points on 35.5 percent shooting from the field and 32.9 percent shooting from 3-point range. From a plus-minus perspective, Carter was a dreadful minus-19.
With Wright back, Carter has averaged 13.9 points on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent shooting from 3-point range. In the seven-game stretch, Carter's plus-minus has gone up to plus-3.1.
So what did he tell himself to get going again?
"I have to keep playing and stay aggressive," Carter said. "I just made a commitment to myself that I was going to continue to play, keep being aggressive and do whatever I could for my team. I'm back in a groove."
Coming into the game against Chicago, Dallas had averaged 31.3 points from its reserves, ranking 15th in the league. Being in the middle of the pack in terms of bench scoring is something the Mavericks haven't been familiar with for quite some time. With Rick Carlisle coaching the team over the past five years, Dallas was in the top five of bench scoring each year coming into this season. With changes to the roster and injuries, this bench hasn't had the same impact as previous teams'.
"I definitely blame myself for that," Carter said of the bench's scoring woes. "I talk to those guys a lot. I'm the first one off the bench, so I pride myself on setting the tone for that bench squad. If I need to change the complexion of the game with energy, effort, attacking or whatever is needed, I must do that and that wasn't happening from our bench. I'm the first guy off the bench, so I put the blame on myself."
Carter and the bench responded in the game against the Bulls as they scored 40 points. The bench is averaging 37 points over the last seven games since the return of Wright.
It's still a small sample, but teaming with Wright has produced Carter's second-best two-man combination on the team this season, as they have combined to be a plus-28 for Dallas in 73 minutes. The duo combined to have the second-best plus-minus total last season, plus-131. Only the combination of Carter and Dirk Nowitzki was better last season at a plus-176.
Wright has an impact on the team as he has the ability to score easy baskets in the paint with his crafty skill set. As teams adjust and collapse on him, things begin to open up for shooters like Carter. That extra split-second of time can often make a huge difference for such players.
Having Carter score again with consistency is a big deal for the Mavericks. Even with the struggles earlier in the season, Carlisle understood that things would eventually turn around and Carter's scoring would come back.
"It's great. Vince is such an important guy for us," Carlisle told reporters after the game. "Having Wright back in there helps too. An NBA season has ups and down and it has peaks and valleys. Not everybody is going to play great all the time, but we always have to play hard and play together. If we do that, we'll be all right."
Carter appears to have made it through his rough patch. With Wright back, the Carolina connection has rejuvenated Carter’s game.