DALLAS — You can consider the fact that the Dallas Mavericks‘ starting point guard is a 37-year-old dude who had played a total of 15 games in the previous three NBA seasons and had to beg for a D-League audition a few months ago as proof of just how far this proud franchise has fallen.
Just know that the Mavs are 8-3 since inserting Mike James into the starting lineup.
As a result, with a dozen games to go in the regular season, Dallas has a reasonable chance to contend for the West’s last playoff spot. James, who has played a key role in the Mavs pulling within two games of the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, is loving every minute of it.
“I’m like a little kid in a candy store,” James said with a wide smile after scoring a season-high 19 points — his most in a game since 2009 — and dishing out five assists in the Mavs’ 113-108 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday. “People don’t understand how much fun I’m having out there.”
It’s a heck of a lot more fun than sitting at home and hoping the phone rings.
James, who didn’t make his NBA debut until he was 26, had to fight to get in the league in the first place. He managed to carve out a productive career — winning a championship ring as a Detroit Pistons reserve in 2004 and averaging 20.3 points per game for the Toronto Raptors a couple of seasons later — and he refuses to let it end.
Here he is with his 12th NBA team, having successfully lobbied for an audition with the D-League’s Texas Legends that lasted two games before the point guard-desperate Mavs called him up. He survived two 10-day contracts and has thrived as a starter, averaging 10.4 points and 4.8 assists in the past 11 games to help the Mavs get hot.
“They keep trying to tell me that I’m not able to play this game,” James said, still smiling. “They keep telling me that the game has passed me by. It’s not about proving nothing to no one, but it’s like, you know what? Because everyone keeps trying to tell me I can’t play this game no more, I’m out there having a great time.
“I’m out there doing something that I love doing, looking forward to tomorrow’s practice because I love working.”
While he’s in phenomenal shape for a man his age, James had to work himself back into NBA game shape after joining the Mavs. That, of course, is to be expected of a player who didn’t have a full-time job the previous three years and was out of the league for the entire 2010-11 season.
James’ shooting percentage looked like a mediocre utility man’s batting average for several weeks. It’s still only 36.5 percent overall, but James has hit 40 percent of his 3s this season, including 29 of 60 in March.
“Once he got his legs, you could just see he had more arc on his shot,” sixth man Vince Carter said. “He’s just been in an unreal rhythm for our team.”
James is far from a perfect point guard. He’s really a combo guard who is more comfortable scoring than distributing, which is why he took the brunt of the blame when Dirk Nowitzki‘s hot hand didn’t get fed nearly enough in the Mavs’ past two losses.
But the Mavs appreciate James’ fearless attitude. They respect the way he fights and love that he never shies away from a challenge, whether it’s taking a big shot, defending the opponent’s best guard or whatever else is necessary to keep the Mavs’ playoff hopes alive.
“He has a tremendous enthusiasm for the game, and he competes,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s a competitor. He’s a gamer.
“The thing I like about him: He’s one of these guys that has great experience, and he has great confidence in himself. If there’s blunt things you need to say to him, you can be completely straightforward with him. He’ll take everything the right way, and he’ll keep battling his butt off.”
James had to battle his butt off to just get back into the league. He’s having a grand ol’ time helping the Mavs win now, as hard as it all is to believe.
DALLAS – Jet never really got off the runway during his return to the American Airlines Center.
Jason Terry, the man coach Rick Carlisle refers to as Mavericks royalty, received a standing ovation when he checked into the game but never made much of an impact for the Boston Celtics. Playing in Dallas for the first time since essentially being forced to leave in free agency, Terry was held to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting and had as many turnovers as field goals.
“It was a good feeling, but I was solely locked in on the game,” Terry said of the warm welcome from Mavs fans. “It was good to see everyone, but I’m a Celtic now.”
It’s been a tough week for Terry. People are still buzzing about LeBron James’ and-1 dunk over him Monday. He went scoreless in Wednesday’s loss to the New Orleans Hornets. And he was a nonfactor against his former team, when he had about 100 friends and family members in the stands.
“We have great respect for Jet and what he can do in a game,” Carlisle said. “I think our guys just gave him the respect he deserves and really played him hard. They just tried to make it tough. He got some shots. I’m not going to say we shut him down or anything like that, but guys battled him all night and that’s what we needed to do.”
Terry exchanged postgame hugs with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, Carlisle and a few former teammates, but he wasn’t in a good mood after the Celtics’ third straight loss.
“All I was worried about was getting a win,” Terry said. “We have to end this road trip on a good note. Right now we’re just not getting it done.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ bounce-back game:
1. Dirk’s workload: Rick Carlisle considers Dirk Nowitzki’s recent low shot totals “an overblown conversation” – and Dirk concurs — but the coach posed one question when asked about the subject.
“Did he have more shots than Mike James?” Carlisle said.
James – 2-7 FG, seven points, six assists
Dirk – 8-15 FG, 22 points
“That’s good. That’s good,” Carlisle said. “It’s an awareness that we have to have. You guys can all see what happens. When we slow down and start calling plays, teams lock into us. It’s a harder game for us to play because of how we’re set up. We have to have an awareness. We have to involve Dirk in as many things as we possibly can without having to call plays.
“A lot of attention is on the point guards for that, but really it’s a responsibility for everybody on that.”
A big part of it is on Nowitzki, especially when the Mavs succeed at pushing the pace.
“I ran to the box a little more early in transition,” he said. “That’s what I’ve got to do if things are not going well. When our flow is going well and we’re scoring, then I’m fine. We can swing it and pick and roll it. But if I feel like it’s getting into a hole a little bit, then maybe I just have to run to the box and demand the ball a little bit more.”
2. OJ vs. KG?: It’s nothing new for Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett, the league’s premier jaw-jacker, to exchange a little trash talk.
But O.J. Mayo got involved this time, stepping between the two (along with a ref) and telling Garnett, “Back off my man!” Not that Nowitzki noticed.
“He said he had my back,” Dirk said, “but I’ve got to look at the film to make sure he was actually there.”
As far as the KG-Dirk trash talk, Nowitzki called it “nothing” to some of the on-court conversations over the years between the two legends, power forwards who will get to the Hall of Fame with completely different games.
“He’s the man. He’s just a fierce competitor,” Nowitzki said. “We had a few words there, but actually if you go way back, we got into it more than it was today. That was the soft version.”
Nowitzki could have reminded Garnett of their lone playoff meeting, when the Mavs swept the T-Wolves in three games with 23-year-old Dirk putting up 30-15, 31-15 and 39-17, but it didn’t come up in the heat of Friday’s moment.
Mayo (10 points, nine assists) also managed to get the last word on Garnett. After hitting a dagger 3, a mismatched Mayo stole a pass intended for a posted-up Garnett with a little more than a minute remaining, then made sure KG knew about it.
3. Matrix reloaded: Welcome back, Shawn Marion.
After eight games out due to a strained calf, Marion was up to his old tricks, putting up 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds in 31 minutes. He also was the key to keeping Paul Pierce (16 ponts) in check and guarded St. Patrick’s Day star Jeff Green (10 points) in spots.
“I was able to do a lot of things I normally do,” Marion said.
That’s good news to the Mavs, whose recent rebounding struggles turned around, beating the Celtics by double digits on the glass.
“We missed his abilities as a basketball player,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of our best athletes. His activity is something you can’t duplicate with any other normal player. He’s just a very unique guy.”
It’s fitting that on the day of his return to Dallas, Jason Terry discussed his hatred for the Heat.
Of course, that subject has been in the spotlight a lot recently, with Jet’s declaration that he’s not impressed by the Heat’s historic win streak and his co-starring role on LeBron James’ new poster.
“[It’s] not even LeBron personally. It’s just the Miami Heat. Is it the red and black? Maybe. I hate that color,” Terry told Boston radio station WEEI on Friday. “I just don’t like them. Let me tell you like this: It goes back to [the 2006 Finals]. And it doesn’t matter who’s in those Miami Heat uniforms. Let’s just be real: You’re up 2-0 and they come back and win four straight games and you lose the NBA Finals. So LeBron inherited something bigger than the matchup of he and I. It’s about the Miami Heat and that organization.”
Terry readily admitted a personal rivalry with James has blossomed, though.
“Hey, he picked his poison. They put him on me to shut me down in the NBA Finals in 2011 and he couldn’t get the job done,” Terry said. “Hopefully, he’ll have another chance this year in the Eastern Conference finals — or wherever we match up — but I’m telling you right now, I love us. I love the way we’re built. We miss [Rajon] Rondo, we miss [Jared] Sullinger, but with this team we have, we have a chance.”
I wouldn’t bet on Boston, but Terry has a history of backing up bold talk against King James.
With guard Rodrigue Beaubois likely to miss the rest of the season after hand surgery, Dallas Mavericks officials have decided to audition various young guards in his place through the end of the regular season while they continue to chase a playoff spot in the West.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com that the Mavericks will next sign guard Justin Dentmon from their own D-League affiliate to a 10-day deal, most likely finalizing a contract with the Texas Legends’ leading scorer Monday.
The team on Friday notified Chris Wright — who now ranks as the only player in NBA history known to have multiple sclerosis — that he would not be receiving a second 10-day deal. In the wake of Beaubois’ injury, Dallas has decided to use its 15th roster spot to get to know various young players for potential down-the-road signings.
That means, sources say, Dallas is likely to bring in another player on a 10-day basis after Dentmon’s trial. Dentmon is averaging 26.0 points through 22 games with the Legends and was the D-League’s MVP last season while playing for the San Antonio Spurs‘ affiliate in Austin, earning callups from both the Spurs and Toronto Raptors.
DALLAS – The Mavericks figured out a way to get a lot more touches for one of the NBA’s most efficient scoring big guys, and benefited greatly from it.
Oh, and Dirk Nowitzki got a lot more looks, too.
Wright got a spot start Friday night and responded by making a major impact in the Mavs’ 104-94 win over the Boston Celtics, leading all scorers with a season-high 23 points and grabbing a season-high-matching eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, Nowitzki got his most shots in a week, scoring 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
It’s a mutually beneficial frontcourt pairing on the offensive end. There’s no question that Wright, who attempted a career-high 16 shots from the floor and made all but two of his 10 buckets from within five feet of the hoop, gets great looks because of the attention defenses must pay Nowitzki on the perimeter. And Wright’s success around and above the rim creates some more space for Dirk to work in the midrange.
“We play well off each other,” Nowitzki said. “We complement each other pretty well.”
Added Wright, whose 62.2 field goal percentage would rank third in the league if he had enough attempts to qualify: “[Our games] fit perfect together. He’s working the 15-20-foot range and I can work inside of that. When his man is hugging up on him and they’re cheating over with my guy, I can get around the rim and make plays.”
It’s a combination that has had tremendous success in a small sample size this season. The Nowitzki-Wright duo is tied for the second-best plus-minus (plus-87) among Dallas duos, behind only Nowitzki and Vince Carter.
However, coach Rick Carlisle has played Wright with Nowitzki for only 213 minutes this season, according to the NBA’s stats. By comparison, Nowitzki has been paired with Elton Brand for 508 minutes (minus-3), Chris Kaman for 347 minutes (minus-63) and even rookie Bernard James for 128 minutes (minus-7).
This was only the second time this season Wright and Nowitzki started together. The other occurrence was a win over the Houston Rockets earlier this month.
Why not play Wright and Nowitzki together more often? Carlisle is concerned about the slight, 6-foot-10, 210-pound Wright, whose rebounding problems made him a fringe rotation player for much of the season, being overpowered by traditional centers while playing next to Nowitzki.
That wasn’t a concern against the Celtics, who start Kevin Garnett at center and play a lot of smallball.
“It’s his kind of game because there was a lot of small guys out there,” Carlisle said of Wright, who is averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game in March. “That was the reason we started him. He navigates well in an athletic game without a lot of bruisers in it. He played huge for us.”
Added Nowitzki: “When he uses his athleticism, he’s a force for us. This was a game that was right up his alley.”
Those aren’t exactly votes of confidence that Wright can have similar success Sunday against the Utah Jazz’s four-man big rotation headlined by 6-foot-10, 265-pound Al Jefferson. It’s extremely unlikely that Brand, the Mavs’ best banger, will get a DNP-CD for the second straight game and second time this season.
Wright, however, makes a case that he can be effective against the bruising bigs.
“We’ve got to run,” Wright said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We don’t want to slow it down with those guys and get into a halfcourt type of game.
“We can expose those guys. We feel like we can attack them. When we get in those type of grinding games, that’s just not our strength as a team, period. If we can get up and down, we’ll be in good shape.”
With the way Wright’s been rolling, maybe he ought to get a chance to prove himself right.