DALLAS — With Derek Fisher out at least the next three games with a right knee strain, the stage is again yours, Mr. Collison.
That’s Darren Collison, the point guard the Dallas Mavericks traded for in the offseason to take over as their starter and then benched after just 14 games.
Fisher, signed a month into the season, suffered a right patellar tendon strain in the Mavs’ Tuesday night win over Philadelphia, a game he almost sat out because of the flu. But he didn’t and five minutes in Fisher was on the floor grasping his right knee. The Mavs announced Thursday that he will miss tonight’s game against the Miami Heat and at least through the following two-game road trip at Memphis on Friday and San Antonio on Sunday.
It clears the way for Collison to get back in the starting saddle (although coach Rick Carlisle would not confirm his starter at shootaround with Dominique Jones being an option), and that means in a national television showcase against the defending champs (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Carlisle benched Collison after an often reckless, turnover-tinged start and with the Mavs sitting at 7-7 during their favorable portion of the schedule. That’s when the veteran Fisher came abroad to deliver a rudder to Dallas’ listing, Dirk Nowitzki-less ship.
Now they’re 12-13 and embarking on a most daunting six-game stretch that also includes a road game at Oklahoma City after Christmas, followed by home dates with Denver and the Spurs again.
How well the Mavs close out 2012 could well depend on how reliable Collison, who has averaged 5.3 assists and 2.6 turnovers, can be as the starting point guard as the competition level significantly rises.
“Right now we’re trying to figure out how not to turn the ball over 17 times a game,” Carlisle said Wednesday. “And then, yeah, these are all good teams coming up. Nothing’s ever easy, particularly this year. It’s been tough. We’re going to prepare hard and team’s got to deal with us, too.”
Nope, nothing easy, particularly in the turnover department. Dallas coughed it up on an average of 21.4 times in three consecutive road losses, with a high of 28 in the double-overtime loss at Boston. Against Philly, they did a better job, limiting the turnovers to just 11 that the 76ers turned into six points. Collison had just one turnover in more than 30 minutes.
The short-handed Mavs, obviously still without Nowitzki, who practiced for the first time on Wednesday, have other injury issues as well heading into tonight’s game against Miami, which is just 4-4 on the road. Forward Elton Brand (groin) is listed as day-to-day as is reserve center Brandan Wright, who turned his ankle late in the Philly game.
Collison, who wasn’t happy with the demotion at the time, has come off the bench the last 10 games and will need to play big during this stretch. As a reserve, his playing time dropped by only three minutes a game and his stats have remained relatively the same with the exception of his assists dropping from 6.3 a game to 3.8. His scoring dipped from 12.9 to 11.1, but his overall shooting percentage rose to 46.7 percent from 43.3 percent (although his 3-point percentage has plummeted to 21.1 percent).
His turnovers have tapered off some with two or fewer in five of the 10 games, although he’s had three games with four or more, including seven in the Boston loss.
Come tonight’s tip, Collison will be eager to show the basketball world that he is what Dallas brought him in to be — a starter.