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Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Feel-good Mavericks have family flair

By Jeff Caplan

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Dallas Mavericks are a strange team to figure out, what with their curious home sluggishness offset by high-energy road outputs, and none more impressive than Wednesday’s 111-103 come-from-behind victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at a holiday-festive Ford Center.

Dallas did the defense thing again in the fourth quarter, holding Kevin Durant and Co. to 22 points, nine field goals and 39.1 percent shooting. Meanwhile, the Mavs’ offense somehow found the strength on the second night of a back-to-back to get hot at the right time and unload 36 points. They dropped 32 in the fourth on Tuesday to slip past the Detroit Pistons.

Now at 10-4 overall and 5-1 on the road, what appears to be unfolding here, through the fits and starts of grating, offensive stagnation and take-notice, lock-down defense, is a veteran team that genuinely seems to like one another.

Dirk Nowitzki
With Dirk Nowitzki leading the way and players such as Shawn Marion accepting their roles, Mavs-land has been a happy place.
On top of that, they also seem to be buying into what their sometimes quirky, sometimes maddening  head coach with the buzz cut is selling.

And that’s a concept of togetherness, strength and support through numbers. Apropos for Thanksgiving, perhaps, but when this team sits down in San Antonio for its holiday meal, it just might feel a little like family.

“The thing I like about this team is this is the tightest-knit team that we’ve had since I’ve been here," Carlisle said. "These guys are really close. They never quit on a game, they never quit on a situation. They keep encouraging each other and, hey, we just look for good things to happen.”

And did good things ever happen. The Thunder continually looked ready to blow the game open on their home floor. Up by 11 with 4:04 to go in the third quarter, the Thunder found themselves soon struck by lightning, their lead shrunk to two over the next three minutes. Down 90-83 with 7:41 left in the game, the Mavs tied it 47 seconds later on just two possessions that produced twin Dirk Nowitzki 3-pointers. His second went for a four-point play after Serge Ibaka got a piece of Nowitzki.

The next possession, Jason Terry, who might as well have been shooting blindfolded all night he was missing so badly, front-rimmed a 3-point attempt that went up straight and then straight through for a 93-90 lead. From there, the Mavs came up with huge defensive stops and tremendous offensive plays.

Shawn Marion tipped in a Tyson Chandler tip off Marion’s original missed shot from the baseline. Chandler’s two-handed flush in Nenad Krstic’ face, complete with grimace and fist pump, resulted in a 3-point play and a 103-93 lead that had the Mavs bench dancing on the floor.

“Tonight I felt like we all were in tune,” said Chandler after he finished off a monstrous 17-point, 18-rebound performance. “Even [inactive] guys in suit jackets were in the huddle cheering guys on, keeping our spirit lifted. I thought that really impacted the game.”

More of that togetherness stuff. What could have been perceived as a potential pitfall is being hailed as a bona fide strength. How would Marion accept coming off the bench? Would Caron Butler fit in? Could he accept fewer minutes and even not playing in crunch time? There was the perceived awkwardness of Chandler nabbing the starting center job from Brendan Haywood, the guy the Mavs had just committed big money to in the offseason.

Yet, there was Butler, his warmup jacket on and seemingly satisfied with all 15 of his points having provided fuel in the first half, and content to cheer on his replacement Marion for the entire fourth quarter. Last week after the loss to New Orleans, Butler expressed some frustration at his low second-half minutes, but he also said he would never stop rooting for his teammates.

“You have a bunch of guys that want to win,” said Jason Kidd, who was as cold as Terry until he sank his second 3-pointer on nine attempts with 4:28 to go to extend the lead to 98-93. “I think everybody has experienced their individual showcase of points, rebounds, you know, stats, and I think you’ve got a group that says, ‘Hey, if I can help the team by coming off the bench, everybody gets the same ring if we can achieve that at the end.'

“You’ve got a bunch of guys who have sacrificed, but you have a bunch of guys who work hard and want to win.”

That’s been apparent in fourth quarters throughout the season, whether the final period has come on the heels of an ugly grinder of a game or the rarer free-flowing thing of beauty.

“It’s a team thing; we all collectively helping each other and supporting each other,” Marion said. “Like I told J-Kidd because he’s like, ‘I’m missing [shots].’ I was like, ‘Well shoot till you make it. It ain’t going to go unless you shoot it.’”

The next stop on the feel-good train is San Antonio. The Spurs have won 12 in a row and are a league-best 13-1. Who knows how that anticipated first meeting of the season will play out, but around the Mavs right now, the vibe is all about hanging tight and hanging together, and it is all good.

“I just can’t say enough how important the collective spirit of the group is,” Carlisle said. “It’s good, and we’ve got to keep it that way and we’ve got to keep building.”