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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Can Mavs-by-committee slay powers?

By Jeff Caplan


DALLAS -- As the Carmelo Anthony trade advanced the NBA's trend toward super-alliances, the Dallas Mavericks, despite their long-stated desire to pair a superstar with Dirk Nowitzki, have settled, rather successfully, for a counter approach.

Among the league's top contenders -- the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers, even the young Oklahoma City Thunder and, go ahead, throw in the new New York Knicks -- the Mavs are the lone club to send just one player to last weekend's All-Star Game.

Dirk is the Mavs' Lone Ranger, just as he's been since Steve Nash walked and Michael Finley was shown the door; just as new contenders in the East load up with superstar power combos and the powers in the West are loaded with perennial All-Stars.

When Dallas resumes play tonight against Utah and then after Thursday's trade deadline passes at 2 p.m., Nowitzki will continue to stand alone in Big D. The Mavs have pressed on with the committee approach, surrounding Nowitzki with a collection of mostly veteran players, many with their All-Star days behind them and all lacking a championship ring.

"We know that for us to be the kind of team we need to be, we’ve got to have 12 guys ready each night to contribute in a meaningful way," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I think you’ve seen that in the last few games. we’re going 10 or 11 deep almost every game in some form and we’re going to continue to need guys ready...For us, depth is one of our calling cards."

The result to this point is a 40-16 record -- good for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference -- that has been built on selfless play, a buy-in to defense, superb locker-room chemistry and most recently, tremendous offensive ball movement and spread-the-wealth scoring.

But, can that formula slay super powers in the postseason?

"We’ll see," Nowitzki said. "I think if we keep five, six guys in double figures, we’re tough to guard and tough to stop and tough to beat. That means we’re moving the ball, everybody’s playing well, with confidence and everybody is in their groove and we’re playing well off each other."

The Mavs have been on quite an offensive tear, a reversal from earlier this season when surprising and impressive late-game defense won games with the final score in the 90s and even 80s. Dallas has now scored at least 100 points in 12 of the last 13 games, and in all 13 at least five players scored in double figures. The Mavs are 25-4 when at least five players score 10 points or more. Remarkably, nearly half of that total has come during this last stretch of 13 games in which they're averaging 107.5 points.

"If we always have five guys in double figures then we don’t really need a second guy that produces 20 to 25 points," Nowitzki said of the lack of a second superstar player. "If two, three guys do that together for us on a nightly basis then we’ll be in good shape."

However, the last 13 games is a small sample size. For the first two months of the season, Dallas averaged around 93 points a game and more often than not were dependent on Dirk carrying a disproportionate load. That hasn't been the case lately and Nowitzki said the team has learned from the early portion of the season when his point totals were high, but the team's was low.

Before Nowitzki scored 35 points on 13-of-18 shooting in last week's win at Phoenix, in which four others also scored in double figures, the Mavs were just 4-3 in games Nowitzki scored 30 or more.

"Early in the season sometimes I had big scoring nights and we still lost and I think that showed us that that’s not what we want to do," Nowitzki said. "I think I had 38 [36] against Chicago here at home and we lost (88-83). We saw that that’s not how this team is built and that’s not how we want to win.

"There’ll be some nights where I have to have some bigger scoring nights, but me scoring right around 20, 22, 23 and everybody scoring well, as long as I score efficient, I think we’re in pretty good shape, and that’s when we’re at our best."