- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas.com
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Garbage time doesn't exist for Dominique Jones. Not now, anyway.
It's been about 18 months, by his count, since he played basketball regularly, and every minute he's on the court, regardless of the score, is another opportunity to improve.
That's important because the Dallas Mavericks need him.
Uh huh, that's right.
The defending NBA champions need Jones, a guy who would normally be their fourth or fifth option to run their offense.
The reality is the Mavs need Jones to play a key role until backup point guard Delonte West returns from a fractured right ring finger that's expected to keep him out another 3-5 weeks.
Jones had seven points, five assists and one turnover in 25 minutes. More important, he played well enough that Jason Kidd spent the last 15 minutes on the bench.
Kidd played just 23 minutes.
Hey, Kidd is 38 years old and two separate injuries -- a back strain and a pulled calf -- already have forced him to miss 10 of the Mavs' first 33 games this season.
Rick Carlisle can't run Kidd into the ground, or he'll be ineffective in the postseason, if his body doesn't break down before then. So the Mavs limit Kidd to about 30 minutes a game.
When the Mavs went to double overtime against Portland earlier this month, West started the second overtime because Kidd had reached his maximum number of minutes.
Obviously, Jason Terry can play point guard for stretches, but it prevents him from doing what he does best: find an open spot, catch and shoot.
Rodrigue Beaubois has missed the last three games because of his father's death.
Given the circumstances, Carlisle has had little choice but to play last season's No.1 draft choice.
"My job is to be ready," Jones said, "but it's not as easy as it sounds to do it. When you know you're going to play, you have a different focus when you're looking at film."
In the Mavs' first 29 games, Jones played more than 10 minutes just once, a season-high 13 in a 15-point win over Utah. In the last four games, Jones has logged 31, 21, 15 and 25 minutes.
His top priority is to defend, run the offense and keep the score close until Kidd returns.
He did that to perfection against the Celtics.
When he entered the game with 4:22 left in the first quarter, the Mavs led 13-8. And when he left the game nearly seven minutes later, the Mavs led 25-19.
In the 25 minutes Jones played, he showed glimpses of why the Mavs think he has a future as a point guard -- even though they drafted him as a shooting guard.
Talk to enough folks and they'll tell you that, at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Jones is really a point guard in a shooting guard's body because he loves passing. Jones has a knack for maneuvering into the lane and has become adept at a spin move followed by a pass to an open teammate.
That's because he keeps his head up when he spins. He found Jet for a three-pointer on just such a play in the second quarter. Jones said he's also been working on making crisp passes with either hand, so he can always get a pass off.
He also contributed a big basket in the fourth quarter. Leading 75-59 with about nine minutes left, the Celtics had trimmed a 24-point deficit and seemed ready to make the out considerably more tenuous.
Then Paul Pierce missed a three-pointer and Jet grabbed the rebound and found Jones streaking down the right side. Jones attacked the basket, cut inside Pierce, who fouled him as Jones banked in a short jumper.
His free throw pushed the lead to 78-59. Ballgame.
Of course Jones still has much to learn, and when West returns, his minutes will get slashed. Heck, it could happen when Roddy B returns soon.
For now, though, the Mavs are simply thankful Jones can ease Kidd's burden.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.
8hMatt Walks, ESPN.com