It was mid-December. The Mavs were in New York, and the team lost to a poor Knicks team. The very next game, Erick Dampier was benched and DeSagana Diop was inserted as the starting center. It was Avery Johnson's first full season as the head coach of the Mavs and the move (and the loss) propelled the Mavs to a turning point. That season, they made it where no Mavericks team had gone before: the NBA Finals. Two years later, and the Mavs are playing the Knicks in New York in mid-December. Dampier isn't getting benched this time, and the Mavs aren't losing. But maybe this can provide the same spark, the same hope, the same drive and desire that the visit 2 years ago gave them. Maybe. Just maybe.
1. Josh Howard - It's hard to follow up a 47 point night because even a solid outing looks pedestrian. That's what happened here to Howard, but it didn't slip past The Dude. Just because it wasn't an existential night, 22 points (4 of 8 from 3), 6 boards, 4 assists, and 2 blocks ain't nothing to sneeze at.
2. Zach Randolph - There are two things I hate in this world with a passion: Stepping in doo-doo and asscracker b-ballers that won't let you truly appreciate their talent because they are so worthless as a human being. Randolph falls into the latter category (if you needed clarification). I applaud his 24 points and 11 rebounds, just like I applaud his career numbers of 16 points and 8 boards. But the guy is a mess. Which is fitting that he played for Portland back when everyone was getting arrested, and now he plays for the Knicks.
3. Jerry Stackhouse - 13 points and 4 assists doesn't sound like much, but Stack provided a lot more off the stat sheet if you watched this game. People talk about how Dirk's not a fiery leader, or Howard doesn't talk enough, but I have no problem with our vocal, veteran leadership coming from guys like Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse. And I wouldn't want to piss off Jerry Stackhouse. He honestly scares me.
- Dirk's Digits: At the end of the first quarter, the Knicks had 19 points. Dirk had 15. What else to you need to know? Okay, I'll tell you. 36 points on 14 of 23 shooting, 3 of 5 from behind the arc, 7 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals. Dirk must have been a little jealous that Howard got all the love in the previous game. More importantly, when the Mavs got a little lazy and let a 26 point 3rd quarter lead shrink to 7 near the end, Dirk used his 36 points to draw the double teams and pass out, leading to 3 straight plays with 3 straight assists to put the game away and seal the victory. Dirk always plays well in The Garden.
- I love when the Mavs play the Knicks now because it gives me a chance to link you to the wonderful Haiku Heckling that 3 Cheers contributor, The Don, gave to Isiah Thomas.
- The Knicks are such a train wreck that their home games are sponsored by Amtrak. Was that too easy? How about the Knicks are such a mess that they don't have ball kids wipe the sweat off the floor. Too much? How about the Knicks are such a disaster that Pete Rose wants nothing to do with them. I'm sure I could go on.
- I will refrain from bagging on Stephon Marbury for now, since he's missing the game to mourn the passing of his father. Even delinquents deserve a break in the time of family loss.
- When Dampier got in early foul trouble, Avery went to Brandon Bass off the bench, not Diop. If Diop is in Avery's doghouse, then this is about as good of a sign as any. Bass is supposed to be Dirk's backup at power forward, not a 2nd or 3rd center in the traditional sense. Diop must have really screwed up.
- During the game I saw a commercial for the Texas Bowl. Before I could stop to think about how absurd it must be that in an age where even the crappiest of all bowls can find a sponsor like Poulan Weedeater or any dot.com that's trying to make a name for itself, this bowl just has to call itself the Texas Bowl. I'm still waiting for the Viagra Bowl or something. Games that last more than 4 hours are a cause for concern and physicians need to be consulted. I digress. Anyway, this commerical for the Texas Bowl featured a rocking tune in the background. It was none other than Old 97's, the greatest band of all time. Okay, that was a slight exaggeration, but I've seen this band live about 25 times and I own all their albums. They almost cracked that elusive plane of stardom back in the late 90's/early 2000's, but it just didn't happen. Even so, they are one of the best bands that I have seen in a long time. I'm happy that they are included in an advertisement for the Texas Bowl. Or am I sad?
- If the Mavs could make some damn free throws in the 2nd quarter, this game would be a full on embarrassment, and I would already hear the "Fire Isiah!" chants by now.
- Wait a second, here we go. 2 minutes into the 2nd half, the Mavs up by 19 points, and Dirk hits a trick, wrap-around, under-the-basket shot, then the Knicks shoot an airball and get a 24 second violation, and then Dirk hits a wide open 3 pointer. "Fire Isiah! (clap, clap, clap) Fire Isiah!" It's sad, because Isiah was possibly one of the best guards to play the game in the 80's and early 90's. But now his legacy is as follows: put in charge of CBA, ruined it, put in charge of Toronto Raptors, ruined it, put in charge of Indiana Pacers, ruined it, put in charge of New York Knicks, ruined it. Is there an opposite of the Midas touch? The Isiah touch? Everything he touches turns to s**t?
Another trip to New York. Will it signal another turning point for a possible championship run? We'll have to wait and see. But the Mavs we know and love are starting to show again for the first time this year, and I hope it sustains. Go Mavs!