HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — In the recent GM survey, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was voted second-best among his peers for making in-game adjustments and tied for third for best defensive schemes.
He proved worthy of the praise once again Tuesday night as he guided his makeshift Mavs, sans Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, to a stunning 99-91 win over the All-Star-laden Los Angeles Lakers, a unit some suggested could challenge the 72 wins posted by the Chicago Bulls.
Using a remarkably effective starting forward-center combo of 6-foot-9 Elton Brand and 210-pound Brandan Wright, and Eddy Curry — yes, that Eddy Curry — popping off the bench for 17 productive minutes, Dallas scored 46 points in the paint against Dwight Howard, the GM’s choice as the game’s top interior defender, competed on the boards against L.A.’s far more physical front line, and tied the Lakers with five blocked shots.
Brand, Wright and Curry combined for 29 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks.
From new Mavs point guard Darren Collison showing the type of aggression he did not in the preseason and outscoring Steve Nash 17-7 while dishing just as many assists (four), to reserves Rodrigue Beaubois and Vince Carter outscoring the Lakers’ bench 22-17, to rookie Jae Crowder dropping one fewer 3-pointer than the entire Lakers team, Carlisle had his team energized, believing and executing with precision — no matter what combinations he put on the floor.
To start the second quarter, Carlisle surrounded Shawn Marion with Beaubois, Dahntay Jones, Crowder and Curry. The Mavs trailed 29-25 and the Lakers scored the first four points for an eight-point bulge and threatened to break it open. But Dallas’ odd-ball unit stopped the bleeding and scrapped to within three, 35-32, when Carlisle substituted in Carter and Brand to play Beaubois, Jones and Crowder with 8:45 remaining.
Later in the quarter, a super-small-ball collection of Collison, O.J. Mayo, Carter, Marion and Brand produced the key stretch of the game, outhustling and outworking the Lakers’ star-studded starters in the final minutes for a 6-1 closing run and 48-46 halftime lead. Dallas would be in control the rest of the way, building a lead as big as 16 points.
Somehow a Mavs team that shot just 43 percent from the floor during the preseason made 47 percent of its shots, nearly doubled L.A. in fast-break points (13-7) and defensively made much of the Lakers’ new Princeton offense look unintelligible.
It was just the first of 82, but missing their star, mixing in more new faces than even the Lakers and starting on the road, the Mavs and Carlisle proved more adaptable and more resilient.