Earl K. Sneed recaps the Mavericks’ rout of the Suns Friday night, as the Dallas squad finished off its six-game home stand by capitalizing off an unfortunate first-quarter injury to Steve Nash.
DALLAS — The Mavericks have been on the good side and the bad side of big nights by two-time MVP Steve Nash.
The former Maverick never shied away from big shots when he suited up in a Dallas uniform, and since departing Big D for the Phoenix Suns he has nailed plenty of game-altering jumpers as a visitor to the American Airlines Center.
Friday night, however, the All-Star point guard never got off the ground, suffering an injury and exiting the game in the early minutes of the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Mavericks (21-5) didn’t hesitate to capitalize on his absence, feasting on the shorthanded Suns who were playing without their spiritual and on-the-court leader.
With no No. 13 to worry about, the Mavericks claimed their 14th win in the last 15 games, downing the Suns (12-13) with a runaway 106-91 victory.
“The game certainly changes without Nash, there’s no question,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle explained. “He’s one of the best players ever…I hope he’s OK. He’s one of, I think, everybody’s favorite players to watch. So, we hope that he’s OK.”
“It was just a weird night from that standpoint,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said after watching his former teammate and good friend go down. “It’s very, very unfortunate. But hopefully he’ll be OK. He’s a warrior. He’ll recover quick. But from that standpoint it was an awkward night.”
After scoring the first five points of the game, the Mavericks tried to take control of the tempo early in the opening quarter. Meanwhile, the Suns’ high-speed attack took a blow when Nash collided with center Tyson Chandler going for a loose ball.
“We were both going for the ball. I knew it was gonna be some contact,” Chandler said, describing the play with sadness in his voice.
“I was trying to actually avoid the contact — try to just get the ball and avoid it,” the 7-footer added. "But he dove in and his head ran right into my hip. And as soon as we made contact I knew it wasn’t gonna be good for him, because my hip was hurting and it was his head obviously.”
While Chandler came away with the ball, throwing it ahead for a breakaway dunk by swingman Caron Butler, Nash remained down. And with 7:17 on the clock in the first period, Nash was helped off the floor and into the locker room, noticeably grimacing. He was later ruled out for the rest of the night with a stinger.
"He was 2-for-3 whenever he went out four minutes into the game, so he was very aggressive and he was gonna have a major impact on the game, one way or another,” Carlisle said. “I saw what happened. It was scary. So, it was good that he was able to get up.”
“Obviously for them seeing their franchise guy go down like that, that was tough. But we still had a job to do. We had to finish the game,” Nowitzki added.
Still, even without their floor general, the Suns escaped the first 12 minutes of play with a 25-22 lead. But the second quarter would be all Mavericks.
The Mavericks’ defense came to life early in the second period, as did reserve forward Shawn Marion and sixth man Jason Terry. Behind a suffocating effort on the defensive end and instant offense from the duo of Marion and Terry, the Mavs not only regained the lead, they pushed their advantage up to double digits.
“Shawn and I always communicate, on and off the court,” Terry explained. ”And so, that chemistry is there. I know where he’s gonna be at on the floor, he knows where I’m at. And it helps us out there, especially on the offensive end.”
“We’re just feeding off each other,” Marion echoed. “We’ve kind of got a sense of where we’re gonna be at, and we’re ready to come in and provide that energy on both ends of the floor. And that’s what it’s gonna take to get us to the next level.”
With Terry scoring 16 first-half points and Marion pitching in 15 of his own, the Mavericks heading into the locker room with a 54-42 lead.
And after outscoring Phoenix, 32-17, in the second period, the Dallas squad ended two quarters of play shooting 50 percent from the floor, while holding the Suns to just 39 percent shooting at the other end. The Mavs also held a 17-7 edge in fast-break points at the midway point.
“Our plan was to push the ball, so we tried to keep it up-tempo,” Carlisle said. “Our best offense was coming when we were getting stops and getting it in Jason (Kidd’s) hands and getting out there.”
Once again the Dallas defense was the story in the third quarter, as the Mavericks scrambled for stops which seemingly always led to points on offense. And just as the bench players did in the quarter before, the Mavericks’ starters increased their lead, this time to as much as 24. Then the rout was on, as the Mavericks took an 80-59 advantage into the final period.
With Nowitzki, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, playing alongside Marion, Terry, backup point guard J.J. Barea and reserve center Brendan Haywood, the Mavericks continued to keep the Suns from mustering up a comeback attempt even after Phoenix climbed to within 12 late in the fourth.
“We were just doing what we had to do to get this win,” Marion simply said.
Carlisle then inserted center Ian Mahinmi after the Suns attempted to inch close through their “Hack-a-Haywood” tactic. Mahinmi calmly stepped in and nailed four consecutive free throws late in the game to close the door on the raising Suns.
“All three (centers) played key roles in the game. Tyson got us off to a good start. His energy in the third was a big factor. And I thought Haywood was dominant when he was in there in the first half and in the second half. And then, when Ian went in, he immediately sunk four free throws and that ended the game. That was key, too,” Carlisle said.
And with his team up, 101-86, and just 2:00 left on the clock, Nowitzki came out as both teams finished off the remainder of the game with reserves.
Nowitzki and Terry shared game-high honors with 18 points apiece, leading four Mavericks’ scorers in double figures. In his starting role, Butler recorded 17 points, while his backup, Marion, went for 15 points off the bench.
“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Kidd said after dishing out eight assists. “And any given night, guys are gonna put up big or impressive numbers. We just don’t have to count on Jet [Terry] or Dirk to carry the load…Everybody was big tonight.”
Off the Suns’ bench, Hakim Warrick led the way with his 15 points and 14 rebounds.
But with no Nash to be concerned with on the court, the Mavericks utilized a 23-9 advantage in fast-break points to outshot the Suns, 45 percent to 39 percent. The Mavericks also connected on 8-of-18 shooting from behind the 3-point arch, compared to just 5-of-21 shooting from deep for what was the NBA’s deadliest 3-point shooting team.
“They had some threes that they missed that were goods looks. I thought we contested a lot of them and took them off a lot of them. But again, it’s a good win even without Nash out there, because they have a lot of other really good players. But it’s not the same game,” Carlisle said.
And behind Chandler’s 12 rebounds and Haywood’s 10 boards, the Mavericks finished the night with a 54-51 rebounding edge.
Now, after going 5-1 on the longest home stand of the season, the Mavericks prepare for an all-Florida back-to-back, touching down in Miami for Monday night’s battle with the Heat, and then journeying to Orlando one night later for a matchup with the Magic.
Since falling, 106-95, to the Mavericks on Nov. 27, the Heat has run off 11 straight wins. And the Mavericks certainly know that the Heat will be out to return the favor when the two teams collide on South Beach.
“It’s gonna be a very challenging game for us,” Carlisle said while looking ahead. “I’m sure they’ll be thinking about revenge and all that stuff. But we’ve got a day off, we’ve got a day to practice and then we fly. And it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
Note: The Mavericks-Heat matchup Monday night will take place at Miami’s American Airlines Arena. The game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally on NBA TV.
The Mavericks then travel to Orlando Tuesday night to face off with the Magic, in a showdown that will air locally on TXA 21 at 6 p.m. CT.
After another road game in Oklahoma City on Dec. 27, the Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center for a date with the Toronto Raptors. That game will tip off at 7: 30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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