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Saturday, February 18, 2012
Shawn Marion a tough test for Linsanity

By Jeff Caplan
ESPNDallas.com

NEW YORK -- Shawn Marion had just completed a total shutdown of Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, another in a recent string of defensive gems against some of the game's quickest and craftiest playmakers, when the Dallas Mavericks small forward was asked to evaluate his next assignment.

Marion responded with his own question: "How much does he score?"

Shawn Marion
Shawn Marion has been a defensive stalwart for the Mavs and typically gets the toughest assignments. "He's the best we got," coach Rick Carlisle said of Marion, "and he's going to guard the better players most nights."

Sixteen points a game, Marion was told of guard Lou Williams, the Philadelphia 76ers' leading scorer.

"Sixteen?" Marion said. "Huh."

Forty-eight hours later, the Mavericks pulled out of Philly with a sixth consecutive victory. Williams got the Marion treatment during the second half and finished with just 12 points, his second-lowest output of the month. Sixers guard and second-leading scorer Jrue Holiday, shadowed by the 6-foot-7 Marion for a good chunk of Friday's game, finished 0-of-9 from the floor, the only time this season he didn't make a bucket.

After the 82-75 comeback victory, Marion was inevitably asked to gauge Sunday's certain assignment -- Linsanity.

Marion, showing the swagger of a champion and one on a career-defining roll, acted as though Jeremy Lin -- inescapably the hottest name in the game for two weeks -- didn't really ring a bell.

There's little doubt the two will become quite familiar Sunday when Marion and the Mavs, perhaps this season's most surprising dominant defensive outfit, take to a raucous Madison Square Garden overrun by Linsanity.

With Carmelo Anthony expected to need at least one more day before returning from a groin injury, Marion-on-Lin seems as obvious a play as a corner hot dog.

"He's the best we got," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Marion, "and he's going to guard the better players most nights."

The Mavs took Saturday off to rest, with back-to-back games upcoming against the Knicks at noon on Sunday and then the Boston Celtics back home on Monday.

Marion, 33, is 10 years Lin's elder. Over the past five games, since this run of defending point guards started against Ricky Rubio in Minnesota, Marion has averaged 33.8 minutes, including 38 on Friday.

The run has gone from Rubio to Chris Paul to Lawson to Holiday. Those four combined for 11 turnovers and eight field goals, and shot a combined 21.6 percent.

Marion deflected credit to his teammates, who as a unit rank No. 1 in the NBA in shooting percentage defense (41.4 percent) and fifth in scoring defense at 90.8 points a game.

"We're all out there communicating with each other," Marion said. "I think that that's what it's going to take. I think that the more we're helping each other and the more we're communicating and making it hard for the other team, the better we are, and it shows. When you have everybody just feeding off each other and helping each other to make them better, it makes us all look better."

And now comes Lin and a revived Knicks team that, before the Linsanity explosion, was on the verge of implosion, despite the super-hyped trio of Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and former beloved Mavs center Tyson Chandler.

But now this team and this town belong to Lin. And while Carlisle refused to divulge his plans for the defending the 6-foot-3, second-year Harvard man, simple matchups would seem to dictate a Lin-Marion showdown.

"Each game is a different situation," Carlisle said. "We're looking for the best possible matchup scenario for our team. It's not just who one guy guards, it's who all five guys guard. Some of it is based off offensive schemes the other team uses, some of it's based solely on personnel."

When Carlisle reverted to a starting backcourt of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter five games ago in Minnesota upon Kidd's return from a second injury, he did so with the belief that the versatile Marion, who will often guard three positions during the course of one game, could do the job chasing point guards.

Kidd and Carter started the season opener, but Carlisle nixed that lineup at halftime, starting Delonte West instead at shooting guard to employ him defensively against quicker point guards.

Neither Kidd nor Carter would seem a good fit against Lin, who has displayed a deft ability to drive and score or dish, as well as drill shots from multiple spots on the floor, including from beyond the arc, leading to averages of 24.6 points and 8.6 assists -- including three double-doubles -- during this 7-1 turnaround.

If Lin has shown a weakness, it is turnovers. He has 45 in his seven starts, including nine in Friday's surprising streak-buster against New Orleans, which will stick out like the Empire State Building to a Mavs team that ranks fourth in the league in steals.

"Lin has burst on the scene in some respects, but a seven- or eight-game sample is a pretty good sample, and what it's shown us is he's a terrific player," Carlisle said. "We have to play our game defensively, and that's what we're going to do. This is a hot team, and even though they lost [Friday] night they are a very hot team and Lin's averaging 25 and 6 assists or whatever it is in that period of time.

"The guy's legit. We've got a tough matchup on our hands."

So, too, will Lin.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.