Combo leads Mavericks' re-emergence
Nowitzki back playing at MVP-level, Chandler displaying All-Star effort in six-game run
Tyson Chandler: All-Star.
Dirk Nowitzki: MVP.
Both played huge again Wednesday night in the Mavs' second-half dismantling of the Knicks for a 113-97 victory to start a three-game East Coast road trip. Nowitzki strung together his third consecutive excellent shooting night, going 10-of-16 from the floor for 29 points, including 10 in the runaway third quarter and 16 in the second half.
Perhaps even more encouraging than the efficient shooting were the 11 rebounds he grabbed, his first double-digit rebound effort since Dec. 15.
As for Chandler, Amare Stoudemire fed him a little humble pie in the first half with an easy 21 points. Chandler said he went to the locker room and told his teammates, "I'm going to get aggressive with him." Stoudemire never scored again and finished with five rebounds.
It hasn't always meant lighting up the scoreboard, but he's doing that now, too, with regularity. In the past seven games, Chandler is averaging 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. His season averages are nearing double-double territory as his scoring has jumped to 10.2 points a game to go with 9.3 rebounds.
Only once in his career has Chandler averaged a double-double, the ballyhooed 2007-08 season when he and Chris Paul came one win away against San Antonio from taking the New Orleans Hornets to the Western Conference finals.
The way Nowitzki and Chandler have performed all season, with Nowitzki's offensive prowess providing Chandler space to operate and Chandler's defensive intensity infiltrating Nowitzki's blood, is there a 4-5 combo in the league playing better than the Mavs' pair of mutually dissimilar 7-footers?
Carlisle doesn't think so. Unprompted about anything All-Star, Carlisle said, "Tyson's an All-Star."
During the first half, the Garden crowd started the "MVP" chant, but they had the wrong guy.
"And talk about MVP candidates," Carlisle said of Nowitzki. "I mean, if you look at what happened to us when he was out. If you look at his plus-minus, I think he is the No. 1 plus-minus guy in the entire league. Based on that he should be the MVP. That means he's the most valuable to our team than any other star is to theirs."
Wednesday's game served as a microcosm. Nowitzki was a game best plus-27, meaning the Mavs outscored the Knicks by 27 points when their power forward was on the floor.
"And so his presence on the floor and his healthy presence," Carlisle said, "well, it's huge for us."
The Mavs went 2-7 with Nowitzki sidelined with a sprained right knee in late December through mid-January. While this six-game win streak has been marked by excellent team play, unselfish ball movement that has supplied five, six and seven scorers in double-figures and a gradual return to spirited defense, there's little doubt why the Mavs appear to be back on track.
"Well that's easy," Jason Kidd laughed.
Nowitzki's confidence is growing by the game, as evidenced by his increasing arsenal. He even went to a spin move along the baseline in the second quarter that he said didn't feel all that great, but drew a foul. He hit both free throws, giving him 13 points in the half and 22,000 for his career.
He was hitting step-backs, driving to the rim and hit 2-of-4 from beyond the 3-point arc. His swish from 25 feet straightaway after grabbing the defensive rebound put the Mavs up 71-56 with 7:12 left in the third quarter. The 3-ball was his eighth point of the quarter.
A 26-6 run to start the third quarter extended Dallas' lead to 82-58.
"They got it to him every time they went down the court," said Stoudemire, who put up 20 shots to Nowitzki's 16. "If you go to any player that many times, you will score 30 points, but he's efficient and the whole team did a great job."
Stoudemire looked as though he might go for 40 until Chandler walked his halftime talk.
After weeks of consternation over Nowitzki's supposedly slow return to normalcy, he is suddenly scoring as effortlessly as he was in the first 29 games when he shot 54.5 percent. In the past three games, he is 25-of-38 from the floor (65.9 percent).
And it's no wonder the Mavs are rolling once again. It's become quite clear that there are two straws that stir this drink: Chandler, Nowitzki's choice as team MVP, and Nowitzki, whose case as league MVP continues to grow.
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter.