Jan 14, 2013; Dallas, Tx, USA; Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) and power forward Elton Brand (42) react after a score against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Smitten? Are the Mavericks Smitten?

 

Who are these guys??

The Dallas Mavericks may be in the midst of a possible metamorphosis after winning their third game in a row and in stunning fashion.  After eeking out a win against the Sacramento Kings, the Mavs trounced the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves, igniting hope that the team is finally finding its way.

Granted, Memphis was on the tail end of a back-to-back but the Grizzlies are still one of the league’s best teams and Dallas beat them handily.

Minnesota has faced its share of injury problems this season but as always got inspired play from Nicola Pecovic, who has become one of the league’s more dominant inside presences and J. J. Barea, who finally got to come to Dallas and play in the building where he became an NBA champion.

I have been saying for weeks that the key to the Mavericks success would be a successful tandem that does NOT necessarily include O. J. Mayo.  Why?  Because Mayo has been hot and cold all year and for the season the team has almost entirely been about how he performs.

On any given night a win requires solid games from at least two of the more productive players and on the nights Mayo had played well and had support (usually from Chris Kaman) they won.  But that was a while ago and since then, he slumped and nearly everyone else did too.  On the rare night Darren Collison exceeded 20 points, for example, they would still lose because his performance was largely solo and up until the Twolves game, the Mavs were 0-4 in games where Collison scored at least 20 points.

The Kings game was true to form – Mayo hit for 24 and Vince Carter added 23 and Shawn Marion and Dirk added 19 and 17, respectively.  But then a funny thing happened.

Against the Grizzlies, Mayo only shot the ball 7 times and scored 4 points.  But Shawn Marion hit 9-of-13 for 20 points and Dirk scored 17; Chris Kaman 14 points and 7 rebounds and Elton Brand had 10 points and 9 rebounds.

Mayo came back against the Timberwolves with a great all-around game – 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 7 rebounds and 9 assists…but much of his scoring came late and the real stars of the show?  Darren Collison with 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 9 assists, plus Elton Brand going 10-of-13 for 20 points, a season high.

But it isn’t all about scoring.   Even prior to the Twolves game, the Mavericks had improved dramatically over the stretch when they were still losing close games, sometimes to elite teams and in overtime.

Fox Sports Southwest highlighted four of the critical areas where the Mavericks had improved over the last 7 games compared with the previous 31.

  • Rebounding margin improved from -4.9 (worst in the NBA) to even.
  • Turnovers per game improved from 15.6 to 11.6 (2nd fewest in the NBA)
  • Opponents’ point off turnovers decreased from 18.7 to 15.0
  • Opponents points in the paint decreased from 41.2 to 36.9.

Yes, the Mavericks are scoring more as a team but they are also playing better defense, rebounding the ball better and protecting the ball.  When you improve in all those categories, there is going to be a dramatic turnaround.

Individually, they look much better as well:

Brand has been shooting well over 70% from midrange and his percentage is way up over a recent stretch, effectively meaning he’s becoming the player the Mavs envisioned when they signed him.  His defense and rebounding have been there all season but he struggled with his shot early in the year and now that it’s come around, the difference is staggering.

Darren Collison is materializing as the decision-maker the Mavs have been waiting for and it starts with him.

Dirk is coming along well, not necessarily by dominating but by hitting key shots and spacing the floor.

Shawn Marion continues to play his all-around game – scoring when needed, rebounding and playing solid defense.

Chris Kaman has made an obvious effort to increase his defensive presence and it shows.  Even though he’s not on the floor for much of the game, he is still shooting a high percentage most of the time and using his length to bother opponents as much as he is capable of.

O. J. Mayo is not having more huge scoring nights but his assists and rebounding are consistently up.

Vince Carter and Jae Crowder are providing help off the bench.  Both had started hot then experienced droughts and are now shooting well again.  In addition, Carter is playing inspired defense as well.

This does not mean, of course, that the Mavericks are instantly contenders—it will take more success to prove that they have turned the corner.  As Rick Carlisle said regarding the 3-game win streak,  “We’ve got to be sure we don’t become too smitten with ourselves.  I don’t want to undersell the fact that we’re doing good things. At the same time, we can’t be seduced into thinking we have anything solved.”

Smitten?  Is anyone smitten?  Well…maybe a little.  After the last losing streak I’ll confess to a little smitten.

If the Mavericks can continue on this path they are sure to succeed.  It is still a long road to the playoff picture but it appears the promise of last summer’s free agent signings is finally starting to come to fruition.

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