Commentary

Mavericks are humming and chumming

Dallas' team chemistry and defensive intensity have it operating on all cylinders

Updated: December 22, 2010, 3:57 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- One for all, and to all a good night.

The Dallas Mavericks, in fact, will have five of them as they get a rare and welcome holiday vacation after a satisfying Florida sweep on consecutive nights.

[+] EnlargeCaron Butler
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty ImagesCaron Butler's team-high 20 points helped the Mavs improve to an NBA-best 5-0 in the second game of back-to-backs.

If Monday's 98-96 Miami Heat streak-snapper followed by Tuesday's 105-99 outlasting of the Orlando Magic wasn't enough to make the Mavs feel festive, listen to what Dirk Nowitzki had to say about them after their latest effort takes them into the break with a 23-5 record and having won 16 of their past 17 games.

"The best thing is the atmosphere in the locker room," Nowitzki said. "Everybody is getting along with each other, we're having fun, we're making fun of each other all the time, we like being around each other. So, yeah, it is the best group I've probably been around in my 12, 13 years."

No one said everyone has to like each other for a team to win, but it sure doesn't hurt when veteran players are being asked to make personal sacrifices. The skeptical masses want to know what makes this Mavs team different from the rest. Well, start with a real commitment to defense. Second is an undeniably genuine and refreshing brotherhood.

Again, take Caron Butler as Exhibit A. By now this isn't breaking news, but it can't be overstated, either.

Butler scored his team-high 20 points through three quarters. He buried four of six shots from beyond the arc and eight of 14 in the game. He was grooving. He dropped a team-high eight points in the third quarter to ensure the Mavs held a 76-72 lead heading into the fourth.

And then Butler, who has logged a lot of minutes on a lot of bad teams, watched every second of the decisive 12 minutes from the bench. His night was done after 27 minutes, 15 seconds, a mark slightly less than his season average and a whopping nine minutes less than his career average.

"Nah, never," Butler said when asked whether he's been involved with such camaraderie. "Everybody's just pulling for one another, and we're doing a great job collectively of closing games. You kind of know your minutes, the rotation, so guys are just really playing hard during the course of those times and capitalizing on the opportunity."

The Mavs held off a desperate and dangerous Magic team on its home floor by outshooting it from the 3-point line and with a collective effort across the board. While Dwight Howard grabbed 23 rebounds for himself -- 19 more than Tyson Chandler -- the Magic outrebounded the Mavs by only four because seven Mavs claimed between four and eight.

Nowitzki Everybody is getting along with each other, we're having fun, we're making fun of each other all the time, we like being around each other. So, yeah, it is the best group I've probably been around in my 12, 13 years.

-- Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki

As for the Mavs' scoring 105 points, consider that from the 4:47 mark of the first quarter to the 11:28 mark of the fourth quarter, Nowitzki had just eight points and went scoreless in that span.

On many bygone nights, a Nowitzki drought like that, which ended with 17 points on 4-of-13 shooting, more often than not resulted in stagnant offense and certain doom. But six players, feasting off movement and smart play (28 assists on 38 baskets), scored in double figures. Chandler dunked his way to 16 points to counter the 26 put up by Howard.

DeShawn Stevenson's boundless confidence is turning into swagger. He drained three more 3-pointers on four attempts, with each long bomb punctuated by him raising his hand up to his face and flashing three fingers. He buried a contested 17-foot jumper in the third quarter to unlock a 68-68 tie and then sort of dropped his arms and cocked his head as if to say, "Yeah, that's right."

"Confidence is up, my confidence, I think everybody's," said Stevenson, the 11th man turned hot-shooting starter. "When somebody gets up, we're there to give him a handshake, and guys are making plays."

Jason Terry scored 13 points and again came up big in the decisive fourth quarter, with eight points that included absolute killers such as his 18-foot jumper for a 99-94 lead with 39.1 seconds to go. Jason Kidd, playing a savvy floor game, made just three of eight from 3-point range, but every one seemed to come just when the Mavs needed it.

The night before in Miami, Kidd finished with seven points, but he scored five early to propel the Mavs' fast start and then waited more than 32 minutes to knock down a jumper to give Dallas an 83-79 lead with 3:25 to go.

"It's huge," Kidd said of the Florida sweep. "You've got two talented teams and do it in 24 hours; it just shows the depth of our team, but also the focus as a team. Coach prepared us, and we executed the game plan tonight."

Six players in double figures won't happen every night -- only three did so in Monday's Miami win -- but across-the-board performances are becoming more commonplace, and that's the coach's game plan.

"Dirk is as great a player as there is in this league right now, but for us to do what we want to do and go where we want to go, we've got to have four or five guys in double figures and give him a lot of support," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It was an important game for us. We wanted to get momentum headed into this break.

"So, you know, we're happy."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.

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