HOUSTON — With Dirk Nowitzki still on the mend from knee surgery, O.J. Mayo has been driving the Mavericks offense all season. So it wasn’t as if dropping 40 on the heads of the Rockets Saturday night was a revelation.
“What he’s showing over the first 20 games is he has the ability to carry a team at times,” said coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s showing a strong-willed mentality and he’s really hungry to win.”
There were times, of course, when Mayo filled up the basket in his first four seasons in Memphis. But he never did it as consistently and couldn’t seem to find a place as either a starter or reserve to fit into the Grizzlies rotation.
Through the first quarter of the season in Dallas, Mayo is playing like the best bargain in the league after signing on with a two-year, $8 million deal. By hitting 15 of his 26 shots against the Rockets — including 16 in the fourth quarter when Dallas rallied from 11 down — Mayo had his third game of the season with 30 or more points, his seventh with more than 25 and his 11th at 20 or more.
“O.J. [Mayo] is definitely on the kind of roll where he’s putting the team on his back,” said Derek Fisher. “He’s playing at an unbelievable level. It sounds simple, but I think O.J. just wants to win.”
Especially against the Rockets. Mayo says that he and James Harden are buddies who’ve been playing against each other since they were pre-teens, and worked out together during last year’s labor lockout. With Harden pouring in 39 in the shootout, obviously there weren’t a lot of defensive drills in those workouts. Then again, who needs defense?
Mayo scored 16 in the fourth quarter, including a critical 3-pointer off an inbounds pass from Fisher with 38.4 seconds to go and the Mavs protecting a two-point lead.
There’s a difference to the way Mayo is playing this season: more confident, more forceful and shooting a career-best 47.3 percent.
“I pretty much know my role,” he said. “It’s a lot more comfortable here. It’s a comfortable setting, a comfortable locker room. Cubes [team owner Mark Cuban] did a great job in making sure players very comfortable and coaching staff is great. I’ve never felt better since I’ve been in the NBA.”
Evidently, the way all the Mavs are following him, it shows.