DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki traveled with the Dallas Mavericks for the first time this season as they open a three-game road trip at the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night on ESPN. Nowitzki won’t play in any of the games, though that’s of little concern to O.J. Mayo, who has carried Dallas’ offense without Dirk. Mayo is busy figuring out how his opponents are scheming to slow down his career start.
“Really blitzing, making me work to get shots, to even get the ball,” said Mayo, averaging a team-best 20.2 points a game. “So I have to remain aggressive on both ends of the floor, and on nights my offense isn’t going, still remain with the same intensity on the defensive end.”
Mayo was the obvious choice to shoulder the offensive burden with Nowitzki unavailable to the re-made Mavs until at least mid-December after arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 19. Still, few could have imagined Mayo’s sizzling start, especially from beyond the arc where he’s hit 52.7 percent, second only to San Antonio’s little-used Matt Bonner, who has yet to put up a third of Mayo’s 93 attempts.
Only New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson has made more 3-pointers than Mayo’s 49. He’s drained 52, but on 30 more attempts.
Without Mayo’s long bombs, the Mavs would find themselves farther down the West standings than they already are. At 8-9 and out of the top eight, Dallas has gone as Mayo goes.
On this trip, they will need to score more points than they normally do. The Clippers — whose leading scorer, Jamal Crawford, has experienced similar defensive scrutiny — are averaging nearly 101 points a game, and surprising Houston nearly 104. In between is a stop at Phoenix where the Suns will be desperate for a win after flopping through a 1-5 road trip.
In the Mavs’ wins, few and far between lately (they’re 4-8 in their last 12 games), Mayo is averaging 24.4 points and 55.8 percent from beyond the arc, making 29-of-52, and shooting 53.5 percent overall.
In the losses, he’s averaging 15.2 points, shooting 41.7 percent on 3s and just 40.7 percent overall. He’s gotten off 16 fewer 3-pointers in the team’s nine losses compared to its eight wins, and made 14 fewer.
During the Mavs’ recent three-game slide it was no coincidence that Mayo went 1-for-10 from 3-point range, 11-for-34 from the floor and scored a total of 28 points. That was one more point than he scored in each of the Mavs’ last two wins when he was 9-for-16 on 3s and shot better than 50 percent to rally the Mavs past the Knicks and Pistons.
“He’s been seeing trapping defenses really since the third or fourth game of the season, and so it’s something he’s going to have to adjust to,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “As the third or fourth option in Memphis, he wasn’t seeing these kinds of defenses as much. He’s stepped up his game here, he’s getting more attention, so now he’s got to adjust and we’ve got to adjust.”
For Dallas and their leading scorer, the most welcome adjustment will come when the 7-foot German makes his season debut and finally shifts the focus of opposing defenses away from Mayo.