- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Dallas Mavericks might have found a solution to their slow-start epidemic during their long, strange road trip.
The 3-2 East Coast swing began with a blowout loss to Toronto with a healthy core and ended with a franchise-record 50-point win over the New York Knicks despite the absence of two starters.
The Mavs left home 10 days ago hoping to get into a rhythm with the starting lineup the team brass envisioned as the norm this summer, featuring Josh Howard at shooting guard. They returned to Dallas with Howard back in a reserve role and the reigning Sixth Man of the Year filling that spot with the starting five.
Coach Rick Carlisle didn't intend to make Jason Terry a starter. The coach's hand was forced when Howard became ill and couldn't play against the Washington Wizards, but Carlisle decided to stick with it after Terry provided an early-game spark the Mavs had been missing.
"We've got to make sure we come out with the force that we need," Carlisle said. "Right now, I just think it's the best way for us to go."
The Mavs had been missing that force during the first quarter for almost a month. They had led after the opening quarter only once in the previous 10 games before Terry's emergency start in the third game of the trip. With Terry in the lineup, the Mavs led after the first quarter of the last three games, two of which were wins.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Terry, whose only previous start this season came in a Dec. 5 loss to Atlanta, will become a fixture in the starting five.
However, there is at least hope that the revolving door in the backcourt will stop spinning. Five players have started for the Mavs at shooting guard this season: J.J. Barea (11-5), Rodrigue Beaubois (9-4), Howard (4-3), Quinton Ross (3-1) and Terry (2-2).
The biggest problem with starting Terry is that he doesn't have prototypical shooting guard size. However, Jason Kidd is big enough to defend shooting guards and actually matches up better with wing players than he does quick point guards at this point of his career.
The other issue with starting Terry is replacing his scoring punch off the pine. That's the reason Carlisle said last season that he always regretted it when Terry made a spot start.
"It was problematic when he started last year," Carlisle said, "but we didn't have the luxury of Josh coming off the bench then last year."
Howard hasn't exactly lit it up since returning to a reserve role, averaging nine points and one rebound in the last two games, after his name popped up in trade rumors.
Maybe dealing Howard is the Mavs' best method for finding a permanent starting backcourt partner for Kidd. For now, Terry gets his shot.
3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann