"(Memphis is) a very good team,'' said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, whose club dug out from a slow start to eventually grab a lead as large as 21 in this Southwest Division clash at a sold-out AAC. "That’s a team that’s predicted to be a top three or four team in the West, let alone probably the whole league. This is a great win for us.''
Dallas did this in part by having its starters fill up the boxscore. To wit: Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 points with six boards. Sam Dalembert contributed 14 points and nine rebounds. Monta Ellis was good for 18 points, three steals and two assists. Jose Calderon offered 15 slump-busting points and five assists. And the linchpin: Shawn Marion was stellar with 21 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Of that group, Carlisle chose to heap big-picture praise on Trix.
“If you think of the history of the modern game, I can think of less than five, maybe six guys that can guard a guy like (Mike) Conley for big minutes and then turn around and guard a guy like Zach Randolph and then any other kind of guy in between,'' Carlisle said of Marion. "Jordan could do it. Pippen showed that he could do it. LeBron James does it. I don’t know, I could probably come up with some other names, but there aren’t many. You’re talking about a really special player, and he really personalized this game tonight. He felt lousy about last night. He knew we needed a spark. From start to finish, he was on.”
Added Marion: “It’s a mindset. It’s definitely challenging – it’s not easy. To go from having to know the principles of guarding a guard to being a big and telling a guard what to do, having to fight with screens and having to bang with the big guys. It’s a physical game and it wears and tears on you.''
Marion (who motivated Carlisle to mention him as a future Mavs jersey retiree) lead Dallas to a win that represents a reversal of fortune in two important ways.
In 2006, Dallas swept Memphis 4-0 in a playoff setting on the way to the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance. That was part of a 17-0 run of Mavs wins in the series. But that was getting to be ancient history as Memphis had won eight of the last 11 in the series.
Meanwhile, the Mavs followed up Friday's 111-105 loss at Houston with this grind-it-out victory, ending a trend from last year when Dallas managed just a 7-9 record in back-to-back games.
The Mavs were wise to avoid excuses here and battle through struggles (like 40-percent shooting) by finding other ways to score (like 46 made free throws, 25 of them in the fourth).
Are they somewhat disjointed in this early season because they have three notable injured players and nine new guys on their roster? Maybe, but Houston is enduring some of the same issues.
Are NBA back-to-backs one of basketball's most ghoulish challenges? Sure, but Memphis is enduring some of the same issues, having played (and won in OT) on Friday against Detroit.
Oh, and Dallas might as well condition itself for tests like this, as the Mavs play two more sets of back-to-backs in a coming five-day span.
Truthfully, Dallas' problem with Memphis hasn't been scheduling; Dallas' problem with Memphis has been Memphis. The Mavs overcame all of it by showing what Carlisle likes to call "disposition.'' Marion's "disposition -- "I try do whatever I can to help my team win,'' he said -- resonated.
The Grizzlies were able to counter Dallas' high-level balance with Mike Conley's 24 points, Marc Gasol's 23, and 21 points and 14 rebounds from Zach Randolph.
That is the makings of a very good team that might have something to celebrate down the road. And celebrating a 2-1 start in Dallas?
We’ll enjoy it for now, and then we’ve got to get ready for (a Lakers visit) Tuesday,'' Carlisle said. "We have three back-to-backs in a row here, so this is a challenging time of the schedule. Each game is going to be a little bit different, so we’re going to have to find ways.”
Saturday, what Marion and the Mavs found were ways to dump two Buckets-of-Ballast.