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Thursday, December 2, 2010
Small forwards making tag team work

By Jeff Caplan

DALLAS -- Shawn Marion and Caron Butler are in the process of turning a partnership that some might have viewed skeptically into a dangerous combination.

With Butler fully recovered from back spasms and Marion fully attacking his first season as a pro coming off the bench, the Dallas Mavericks are benefiting from a pretty solid 1-2 punch at small forward.

In the last four games, Butler and Marion have combined to average 30.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. Both have averaged right around 15 points with Marion averaging 6.5 rebounds. Neither averaged 30 minutes during the stretch, and barring injury, neither might average 30 this season for the first time in more or less a decade.

"It’s fun. It’s really fun because you get to maximize your ability and your talent in the limited time that you’re out there," Butler said. "We’re taking it as a real challenge to go out there and be productive in some type of way. We’re taking on defensive assignments of some of the best perimeter [players] in the game, and obviously creating offense and being playmakers on the other end."

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle deserves credit for getting both players to buy into the team concept that calls for reduced minutes. Carlisle started on both immediately after last season. He flew to Washington D.C. first where Butler spent the initial part of the offseason. Then he visited with Marion in Chicago. He shared ideas with both and worked out with them.

Then the players took relationship-building upon themselves. Butler spent the rest of the offseason  in his native Racine, Wis. Marion spent the summer in his hometown of Chicago. It's a quick drive between the cities and they joined forces for one another's charity events and they worked out together in Chicago with NBA personal training guru Tim Grover.

"We were just talking about this upcoming season and whatever agendas, whatever, the main goal is just to win a title," Butler said, "whether it’s me coming off the bench or him coming off the bench to sacrifice for the team and we meant that."

During training camp Carlisle said he spoke to both players about possibly coming off the bench. Ultimately he went with Butler, 30, as the starter, and Marion, 32, off the bench.

Butler got off to a slow start, but he's been heating up of late, raising his shooting percentage from the high 30s to 42.2 percent. He went for 20 or more for the first time this season against the Miami Heat when he scored 23 and followed it up with 19 against Houston. In the last three games, Butler is 21-of-37 (56.8 percent) from the floor.

Marion is playing five fewer minutes than he did last season as the starting small forward. Splitting time between power forward, when he replaces Dirk Nowitzki, and at small forward, when he often plays with Butler, Marion's averages of 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds are nearly identical to last season. He's visibly more active at both ends than a year ago and his graceful transition to the bench has proved inspirational to teammates.

"I’m a professional. He’s a professional," Marion said. "We’re going to go out there and compete at the highest level possible and try to win a championship. Who cares about anything else? I just want to play and compete."