Once again the team faced an obstacle. Once again the team responded. Losers of back-to-back games on their home floor, the Mavericks attempted to stop their recent skid without forward Shawn Marion. The versatile two-time All-Star, and arguably the Mavs' best perimeter defender, was sidelined with a strained left oblique muscle. Still, the Mavericks took the court with confidence as they welcomed the Memphis Grizzlies into the American Airlines Center.
With a complete team effort and contributions from the Dallas role players, the Mavericks more than made up for Marion's void, claiming a 110-84 win in blowout fashion. In doing so, the Mavs not only snatched the season series with Memphis, 3-1, they also gained much-needed momentum before heading out on a three-game West Coast road trip.
"Every win we get right now is precious," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the win. "It's a positive step and now the challenge is to keep moving in the right direction...But this is a step in the right direction.
"I thought we were pretty solid. We made a few mistakes, but we were more solid than we've been the last couple of games."
Starting the game with a lineup of Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier, the Mavs came out of the gates fast. Scoring the game's first seven points, the home squad was off and running. After a furious rally by Memphis, the sharpshooting of Butler gave the Mavs some breathing room.
"I got the ball on the opening play and the rhythm started...I wasn't thinking too much. Just going out there and was taking whatever they gave me," Butler said.
The Dallas defense then stepped up the intensity, helping the team take a 33-20 advantage at the end of the opening quarter. Behind a strong defensive effort, the Mavs never looked back.
"Everything in practice the last few days was about defense," reserve guard J.J. Barea explained. "We needed more energy on defense, we needed to guard the pick-n-roll better and the last two practices were defensive-orientated. That worked out for us tonight.
"We all know that we have to play good defense to be able to get where we want to go. We know our offense is always going to be there and it's going to show up. And if it doesn't show up early, it's going to show up late. But our defense has to be more consistent."
The defensive execution continued, with the Mavericks making up for Marion's absence with a scrambling team effort. At the other end of the court, Butler continued his scoring assault while Barea dazzled the crowd with his playmaking.
"It felt great," Barea said. "My teammates were doing a good job of setting screens for me, and we were getting stops on the other end. That allowed me to get out on the break."
The result was a lead as large as 20, before a 13-2 Memphis run. The Mavs then escaped with a 57-45 edge after Butler's tip-in to beat the buzzer heading into the halftime break.
Rudy Gay's 14 points at the midway point kept Memphis close. In his best scoring half as a Maverick, Butler's 17 points helped the team to the double-digit margin despite being out-shot 47 percent to 50 percent.
"I thought (Butler) came out very aggressively and he got us going. With a talent like that, you want him being aggressive, make or miss," Kidd said of his teammate.
"I was going to make shots, I've just got to continue to take them," Butler added.
It didn't take long for the Grizzlies to shrink the Mavs' lead down to single digits to start the second half. But the combination of Butler and Nowitzki responded with a barrage of their own in the third. Not even an inadvertent elbow from Zach Randolph to Kidd's face, causing a cut above the right eye of the ten-time All-Star, was enough to keep the Mavs from taking a 78-66 lead into the fourth.
A rim-rocking, two-hand slam from sixth man Jason Terry started the final period with a bang. Terry then followed it up with a three to put the Mavs up 17. The duo of Terry and Barea then took control of the Mavs' scoring responsibilities, building up an insurmountable mountain for the Grizzlies to climb. The two reserve guards received a helping hand from Nowitzki, as the 7-footer's three-point play followed by a transition score gave the Mavs a 24-point advantage with 6:45 left. Barea then finished off a 13-2 Dallas run with a 3-pointer.
"It was just about me being real assertive out there and watching film with (Carlisle) and picking my spots and seeing how teams are playing me now. I'm just trying to remain aggressive," Barea said.
With the game well in hand, the two squads emptied their benches down the stretch, as reserves played out the clock. The Mavericks outscored the Grizzlies 32-18 in the fourth, finishing off a game in which they never trailed.
Dallas ended the night shooting 55 percent, holding the Grizzlies to 47 percent at the other end. The Mavs feasted off of Memphis' 20 turnovers, turning the giveaways into 30 points.
"We are just trying to bring a lot more energy and buckling down, trying to scramble for 24 seconds. We did a great job of that tonight, collectively," Barea said, recording a career-high four steals.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks committed 14 turnovers themselves, but it only translated into eight Memphis points. Dallas' 50-40 edge in points in the paint and 25-13 advantage in fast-break points certainly helped.
Butler's 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting led the way. Nowitzki followed right behind with his 22-point night. Most of which was off the direction of Kidd, tallying a double-double with his 12 points and 10 assists, also connecting on 4-for-5 from behind the arch. Off the bench, Terry (16), Barea (14) and Brendan Haywood (11) all scored in double figures, helping the Maverick reserves outscore Memphis' bench players 49-7. The collective effort equaled 28 assists.
"We moved it better. When we shoot well and don't turn it over, it's going to lead to more quality shots for us. That's good. It was a needed win and we had a lot of guys who contributed," Carlisle concluded.
Gay matched Butler's 23 points to led four Grizzlies in double figures.
Now the team journey's to the West Coast for a three-game road trip, with games against Portland, Sacramento and the Los Angles Clippers.
The Mavericks' first test comes against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Friday night. The Blazers lead the season series 3-0. That matchup will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally on NBA TV at 9 p.m. CT.
"We've got to get them all," Nowitzki said of the road trip. "That's the mindstate. But we can't get ahead of ourselves. It's Portland next."
The team returns to the American Airlines Center for the final regular season game against the San Antonio Spurs on April 14. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS.