Saturday, February 20, 2010
Remodeled Mavericks soaring on the fly
By Tim MacMahon
DALLAS -- Allen Iverson might have been right after all.
The Dallas Mavericks still haven't had a practice since the paperwork was completed on their blockbuster deal with the Washington Wizards. But a lack of practice didn't prevent the Mavs from fighting out of a funk with their first three-game winning streak since mid-December.
Four games in five days after an All-Star break looked like an awfully daunting task for a team in transition. The schedule appeared especially tough when the bone popped through the skin of center Erick Dampier's right middle finger in Tuesday's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Since then, all the Mavs have done is defeat three consecutive teams that are positioned to make the playoffs, including Saturday night's 97-91 win over the Dwyane Wade-less Miami Heat. Their 2-5 limp into the All-Star break is long forgotten.
"At my age, I like practicing during the games," 36-year-old point guard Jason Kidd cracked. "Those are great practices, as long as you're winning. But the big thing is we still have some things to clean up."
The remodeled Mavs indeed have simply scratched the surface of their potential.
Swingman Caron Butler and big man Brendan Haywood, the two impact players acquired in the trade with the Wizards, are still absorbing the playbook and asking a lot of questions during games. Haywood has been a monster in the middle, averaging 12 points and 9.7 rebounds in his three starts while anchoring a vastly improved defense. Butler provided a glimpse of his scoring punch in the win over Miami, when he had 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
As well as the Mavs have made it work on the fly, it's reasonable to expect this team to get better as it goes. Coach Rick Carlisle estimated that the newcomers are still a week away from really knowing the Mavs' schemes and sets.
"The sky is really the limit for this team," Haywood said. "I'm really happy with where we are, but I'm excited about where we can be."
Added Kidd: "We can't wait to start playing our best basketball."
Kidd and chemistry have been the keys to winning while incorporating two significant new pieces.
This might be the best Kidd has played since he returned to Dallas in a blockbuster deal at the 2008 All-Star break. He has averaged 16.7 points, 9.7 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 steals during the winning streak, setting a fast pace that allows his new teammates to freelance instead of forcing them into structured sets that are still new.
The Mavs won't come out and say this, but the chemistry improved dramatically with the departure of Josh Howard. The moody ex-Maverick's lack of dependability and accountability drained his teammates.
Butler, Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson are seasoned pros who were thankful to escape the mess in Washington. All they were worried about after arriving in Dallas was winning.
"We're playing well off each other so far," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 28 points against Miami. "Nobody's selfish. We're all playing together. That's what you want."
The Mavs have again embraced the things that allowed them to build a big lead in the Southwest Division during the first two months of the season. Dallas has recommitted to defense -- a concept made much easier with Haywood patrolling the paint -- and sharing the ball.
"We're playing tough," Carlisle said, "and we're playing together."
Add a lot of talent and experience to that mix, and it makes the Mavs look like the contenders they expected to be at the beginning of the season.
"It should be a fun rest of the season," Nowitzki said.
Perhaps even the practices.
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.
We can't wait to start playing our best basketball.
-- Point guard Jason Kidd, whose Mavs have won three straight