Opening Tip: Mavs’ bench rocking

Devin Harris, Vince Carter, and Brandan WrightGetty ImagesThe Harris-Carter-Wright trio has been the Mavs’ most productive three-man lineup that doesn’t feature Dirk Nowitzki over the last few weeks. DALLAS — At the beginning of the season, the Mavericks’ bench was like a band missing its drummer and lead guitarist.

With Devin Harris setting the tempo and Brandan Wright jamming, the bench has been rocking for the Mavs recently.

Since Harris’ season debut, the Mavs’ reserves have averaged 43.8 points in nine games. Only the Brooklyn Nets have a higher scoring bench in that span.

“Coming into every game, I think we’re better than the other team’s bench,” said Wright, who scored 17 points in 18 minutes during Wednesday’s big win over the Memphis Grizzlies. “That’s how we feel.”

The trio of sixth man/lead singer Vince Carter, Harris and Wright has formed a bench core worthy of such confidence. Dallas has outscored opponents by 27 points in 66 minutes with those three on the floor together, making them the Mavs’ most productive three-man lineup that doesn’t feature Dirk Nowitzki over the last few weeks.

Nowitzki has been so awesome over the last five games that the bench’s contributions to the Mavs’ 4-1 run have been overshadowed. But the bench’s numbers would pop off the page if the focus wasn’t on the phenomenally efficient hot streak by the Mavs’ lone All-Star.

Carter (11.8 points per game), Wright (11.0) and Harris (10.8) are all scoring in double figures with high shooting percentages over the last five games. Harris and Carter are serving as dual distributors for the second unit, averaging a combined 7.8 assists per game while the Mavs have won four of five.

Carter’s per-game plus-minus (plus-13.2) is off-the-charts outstanding during that span. The three next best on the roster: Nowitzki (plus-8.2), Wright (plus-8.2) and Harris (plus-5.8).

It helps that Nowitzki plays several minutes each half with the second unit, and one of the Mavs’ biggest challenges remains figuring out how to hold the fort while their superstar rests. However, with Harris (toe surgery) and Wright (fractured shoulder) recovered from injuries that sidelined them for long stretches to start the season and Jae Crowder and DeJuan Blair filling dirty-work roles, Dallas has more quality depth than the vast majority of teams.

“Now everybody kind of knows what’s expected of us and we have a feel for each other,” Carter said. “When we come in, we all know what to expect and what to do. I think that’s really helped us.”

The 37-year-old Carter is no longer the spectacular solo artist he was during his “Half Man, Half Amazing” younger years, as was confirmed by his struggles early in the season when Wright and Harris were sidelined. But Carter has benefited tremendously from being paired with his pick-and-roll partner Wright.

Carter’s scoring and shooting numbers are significantly better with Wright’s above-the-rim act than without him. But the most notable difference is his assist numbers: 4.6 per 48 minutes without Wright and 8.4 with him.

“It’s a good combination that’s pretty dangerous,” said Wright, whose chemistry with Carter is especially entertaining on the occasions when he slips the pick and dives to the basket to exploit a cheating defense. “He can come off and shoot and you’ve got to respect that. If you help too much, I’m pretty much wide open at the rim and can make plays.”

Harris gives the Mavs another pick-and-roll creator for the second unit and is a one-man pace-changing machine, which also plays to the strengths of Wright, a big man who can run. Wright has scored 58 points in 96 minutes with Harris in the game.

The Carter-Harris-Wright trio plays a fast-paced, high-flying, fun brand of basketball. They get fans on their feet, like every good band.

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