Revamped Mavericks gaining confidence, momentum
AP Sports Writer
DALLAS (AP) – Jason Terry and the Dallas Mavericks know they don’t get rings for beating the Los Angeles Lakers in February.
What the revamped Mavericks do get from a victory over the defending champion, aside from stretching their NBA-best winning streak to five games, is a sense that they can do it again if they meet in the playoffs.
“It does good for our confidence,” Terry said. “If we do see them, this is a team that we will have confidence against.”
Dallas (37-21) made that big seven-player trade during the All-Star break intent on improving its chances in the Western Conference. In their first game against the conference-leading Lakers, the Mavericks won 101-96 Wednesday night even without newcomer Caron Butler.
“They’ve always been talented, they’ve always put a good basketball team out there,” Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “I think (the trade) has given them energy.”
The Mavericks lost five of seven games before the break and the deal that brought Butler, 7-foot center Brendan Haywood and guard DeShawn Stevenson from Washington.
Dallas lost its first game with the new players, who didn’t even get to practice with their new teammates before playing. But the Mavs haven’t lost since, holding every opponent under 100 points.
“The chemistry is good. We started out in training camp pretty good and it deteriorated throughout the season for whatever reason,” Jason Kidd said. “Now we make a big trade and guys come in that are hungry. Their energy level is up and they want to win.”
Butler missed the Lakers game because of a negative reaction to medication, but Stevenson took his spot in the starting lineup as the primary defender on Kobe Bryant (20 points on 9-of-23 shooting). Haywood has started the last five games since center Erick Dampier dislocated his right middle finger.
There were 24 lead changes and eight ties against the Lakers, none after Kidd’s 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter put Dallas up 74-72.
The new-look Mavericks are 1-0 against Los Angeles. They split four games in the regular season and the only way they would play again is in the playoffs.
“It’s a great win. Too much will be made of it, probably, but we just continue to build on things,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got to keep working to get better.”
Dallas sent promising and often disappointing Josh Howard along with Drew Gooden and two others to the Wizards. Howard is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Monday night. Gooden has already been traded again, to the Los Angeles Clippers, as part of a three-team deal.
“Things kind of worked out right for (Dallas) in this trade. … It kind of reinvigorated them,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, also pointing out Howard’s injury. “Dampier is hurt and now Haywood’s taken his spot, so things kind of clicked for them as far as that goes.”
Butler, Haywood and Stevenson got to leave a last-place team for a division leader.
“I don’t want to use the term ‘get-out-of-jail card,’ but it’s kind of like that for the guys coming from Washington,” Jackson said.
“Coming from the situation we were in, our spirits were somewhat broken,” Butler said. “Coming into this atmosphere, it’s good vibes all around.”
While the Mavericks certainly wanted Butler, also getting Haywood sealed the deal with Washington.
Haywood’s presence became even more important when Dampier, already been hampered by sore knees, injured his finger in the first game after the break and needed surgery.
Dallas is 5-0 with Haywood in the starting lineup.
“It’s a different dynamic because I don’t think he’s ever played with a pass-first point guard like Jason (Kidd),” Carlisle said. “He’s getting a few more opportunities per minute that he had in Washington probably. That provides motivation for him to run. It energizes him defensively. He’s been terrific.”
Haywood is averaging 11.2 points and 10.7 rebounds a game for Dallas. Those are higher than his career marks and what he did in 49 games with the Wizards this season.
“The adjustment period hasn’t been as tough as one might think,” Haywood said. “We have great leadership on this team and those guys have been telling me what to do or where to go.”