Having lost Sunday's 'front end of a doubleheader' by giving up 136 points to Houston, the Mavs left themselves no choice but to alter their approach. The changes? A never-before-used starting lineup. Dirk as the go-through guy. And Marion as a finisher. The result? Dallas 112, Houston 108.
The unavoidable truth about the Dallas Mavericks: They aren't good enough.
Oh, there are nights when they don't make the other team look like the Harlem Globetrotters, as was the case in Sunday's blowout loss at Houston. “They sliced and diced us, particularly in the third quarter,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle recalled. "It was like Meadowlark Lemon was out there throwing behind-the-back passes and the music was playing. That’s how it looked. We got to do better than that.”
Wednesday was a night when Dallas "looked better than that,'' if only slightly, riding a changed starting lineup -- Brendan Wright and Mike James were with the first-teamers, creating a 19th different starting quintet for this year's Mavs -- and the offense of Dirk with the defense of Marion.
Yes, Dirk missed a couple of late shots. But he scored 22 -- and this team is better off with Nowitzki missing shots than they were on Sunday in Houston, when the club's ineptitude limited him to eight shots.
Yes, with no help from whistles, Marion fell shy of keeping a lid on the crafty James Harden, though the lefty did miss a pair of late-game shots -- a 3-pointer for the lead and a drive to tie -- allowing Trix to come away the victor on a night when Harden scored 28 but Marion moved into 25th place all-time in the NBA in steals.
(Marion also scored 22 points, often by working his way to being the receiver on a series of Dallas fast-breaks.)
And yes, the work of James was dubious as he teamed with Darren Collison to struggle mightily at the simplest bits of point-guard execution.
They both made somebody named "Patrick Beverley'' (a 6-1 D-League call-up) look like a morphing of Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo.
Oh, and one more thing: Carlisle had spent the two days preparing for the rematch preaching about things like "professionalism'' and "disposition'' and "posture'' and "attitude'' and his Mavs almost blew that, too. With Dallas clinging to a six-point lead misway through the fourth, the pesky Beverley blocked the 7-0 Dirk's shot. Nowitzki reacted with a frustration foul on Carlos Delfino, and then picked up a T as well.
"We weathered everything,'' Carlisle said later, "and that is a sign of character."
Fortunately, Dirk eventually returned and combined with O.J. Mayo to nail big shots late. (In fact, Dirk/Mayo/Vince combined for 22 of the Mavs' 25 fourth-quarter points.)
And then B-Wright (who was offensively helpful with 12 points) stepped up to combine with Marion for a stop of one of the game's most difficult guys to stop.
Harden, who has discovered a way to get superstar calls that defy his relatively short time in the NBA, made a living at the line (16-of-16). He looked for more of the same when Houston was down two with seconds remaining as he fought past Marion, entered the lane, and had his interior shot challenged by the springy Wright.
I was able to stay on him longer and make it hard for him,'' said Marion of Harden, who shot only 5-of-17 from the floor. "He had some calls go here and there, but at the same time, he is just so aggressive that he is going to make them blow the whistle. I think we have to make it hard for him.”
Marion and Wright forcing the miss gave the Mavs the game. And with Utah's loss, 27-33 Dallas is now 4.5 behind the eighth-place Jazz. (Houston sits in seventh. Dallas still needs to find a way to leapfrog over the Lakers and Blazers.)
A lot of this was about keeping hope alive. A lot of it was about the aforementioned alterations. And yes, some of this win was simply about pride.
“After what happened in Houston, it was embarrassing, as a man, as a player and as a Dallas Maverick,'' said Mayo, who Carlisle said experienced "his best game of the season, without question,'' with 13 points, 12 assists and six boards. "We really wanted to come in here and show our fans that we are a much better squad. It was a great game and a lot of fun.”