You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- Dirk Nowitzki sat out his first of what will be four games played in absentia, and we got our first glimpse of how the Mavericks might operate with their best player wearing a suit as casually as humanly possible. If this first outing against the Hornets is any indication, we’re due for a familiar look: Shawn Marion (14 points, 6-11 FG, 12 rebounds) quietly continuing his terrific season on both ends of the court, Delonte West (16 points, 6-10 FG, six assists, five rebounds) playing like he’s been a part of the Mavericks’ system for a decade, understated defensive play from Brendan Haywood (six points, 10 rebounds, two blocks), extended struggles from Jasons Kidd (zero points, 0-6 FG, five assists, nine boards) and Terry (12 points, 3-16 FG), and Lamar Odom as a complete wild card. Odom’s opportunities for playing time and production won’t be any more ripe than those he’ll see in the coming week; Dallas will need his scoring pretty badly while JET continues to struggle from the field, and thus Rick Carlisle may be more willing to allow Odom to play through his mistakes in the hopes of later seeing glimpses of the old Odom. We saw plenty of said mistakes on Saturday night, as Odom put on an absurd, one-man showcase of jump passes and curious decisions. Crossovers and fakes in isolation before throwing a cross-court pass to Shawn Marion? Managing five three-point attempts against a slew of opponents who have no hope of stopping him off the dribble or in the post? Odom’s judgment with the ball still isn’t where it needs to be, but it’s a credit to his talent and effort that he was able to contribute 16 points and four boards in 26 minutes of action nonetheless. The space cadet performances are part and parcel with Odom, but hopefully he can manage a more level game on Monday night.
- With Vince Carter injured and Odom still struggling, Carlisle has resurrected the Mavs’ three-guard lineups over the past few games as a matter of near necessity. Kidd, Terry, West, and Rodrigue Beaubois (seven points, three steals) have often taken the floor together in various combinations to diversify the Mavs’ offensive options, though the defensive versatility of Kidd, West, and Beaubois (who has been fantastic in challenging the shots of opposing players of all sizes this season) is really the key to such lineup possibilities. It’s still far too early to say how these combinations match up with the Barea-fueled configurations that became a staple for the Mavs last season, but the impact of the three-guard look on the game’s pace is palpable. The glut of playmakers on the court bears resemblance to the ignition element of the Denver Nuggets’ fast-paced offense: by virtue of having multiple ball handlers on the court at all times, Dallas is able to transition quickly from a defensive stop into a fast break. As a result, every defensive rebound is given the functional effect of a live-ball turnover. We saw that effect in action during the third quarter against the Hornets, as the Mavs were able to use their defensive success as a catalyst for their transition game and even to establish their perimeter shooting on the secondary break. Those lineups are interesting as a pace-changing throwback element alone, but the real intrigue will arise upon Carter’s return. Once Carlisle has another, bigger guard to work in the mix, will these lineup possibilities disappear forever? Or merely to the bottom of his toolbox (toybox?) for selective implementation later in the season?