DALLAS -- It absolutely, positively had to be the most comprehensive victory of the season for the Dallas Mavericks and their seemingly bottomless depth.
Mavs rehabbing like champs
How do we know?
Let's just say their dominance legitimately began with Thursday night's national anthem, sung rather soulfully by a guy named Jerry Stackhouse.
It didn't stop there, either. It didn't stop until Kobe Bryant was missing a late fourth-quarter dunk at one end and Anthony Johnson -- Anthony Johnson -- was throwing down a fast-break dunk at the other end, earning Kobe an earful of playful trash talk from old buddy Devean George.
Not that the hosts allowed themselves to get too giddy.
Not with what awaits Sunday.
"There was nobody really chest-bumping in the locker room," Mavs coach Avery Johnson confirmed.
Maybe that's because the Mavs, having now won 19 times in the past 20 games, are getting so accustomed to delivering poundings like this 114-95 rout that they couldn't avoid a nonchalant response, even though Kobe's Lakers had troubled Dallas previously more than any other team it has seen this season.
Or maybe it's because the Mavs were already contemplating their next game on the schedule.
"I've been thinking about it a little bit," Josh Howard said with a smile.
It would be Sunday's return to Miami -- for the first time since the Mavs' NBA Finals dream unraveled. Dallas took a 2-0 Finals lead to South Florida in June and needed only to hold a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3 to set up a likely sweep. You know the rest: Dallas instead wound up losing all three games in Miami, two by a total of three points, and never recovered.
"It's going to bring back some bad memories," Dirk Nowitzki admitted after his 27 points and 10 boards helped the Mavs avenge a fall-from-ahead loss to the Lakers on Jan. 7 that represents their only defeat in the past 38 days. "Everything went wrong that could go wrong on that trip. But we've just got to get over it. Sooner or later, we've got to go down there again."
So why not sooner? Holding the best record in the league doesn't mean much in mid-January, but you suspect that the Heat won't be terribly thrilled to see these new, deeper and rolling Mavs, given that Sunday figures to be Shaquille O'Neal's first game back from a 35-game injury absence and with coach Pat Riley still out indefinitely after hip-replacement surgery.
The belief here coming into the season held that no team on the NBA map faced a longer 82-game slog than the Mavs, since they really can't answer any of the deep psychological questions we (and they) want answered until the playoffs begin. Yet you'd have to say, as they amassed a 28-point lead that convinced coach Phil Jackson to park a helpless Bryant on the bench for the first six-plus minutes of the fourth quarter, that the Mavs are making the most of the regular-season grind, coasting into the 41-game midpoint with a tidy record of 33-8.
"We're excited about going back down there," Avery Johnson said. "Obviously we all know what happened, but we're excited to go back down to Miami and play against the champions.
"We don't run from anything."
You've got to give them that. Dallas insisted it would recover from its South Beach heartbreak and repeated that vow upon starting the new season at 0-4. The Lakers haven't had Lamar Odom for any of their three meetings with Dallas, played this one without Kwame Brown as well and probably left their best in San Antonio on Wednesday ... but Jackson was still moved to salute how the Mavs were rebounding. Literally and figuratively.
With a punishing 53-28 margin on the boards in this one and some rare praise from the Zenmeister -- "I think Dallas is having one of those years ... things are kind of clicking right for them right now," Jackson said -- it would appear that the Mavs are rebounding just fine.
"Time heals all wounds," Stackhouse said. "I don't think [Sunday in Miami] is going to rekindle a lot of bad feelings. We hope not, anyway.
"We don't really think about it until someone like you comes in here and mentions it. That's the only time we hear about last year.
"We had a great run, man. We look at the glass as half-full more than half-empty. One great play or one great shot and we could have been out in the second round. So we had a great run and now we have a frame of reference, if we're fortunate enough to get back."
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Jermaine O'Neal needs a sidekick, and Danny Granger (left) might be that wingman. On Thursday, he poured in 28 points, with five boards and two blocked shots in a season-high 42 minutes. It was an Indiana loss, but an encouraging one, said O'Neal (see below).
MIAMI -- After Jermaine O'Neal's shorthanded Pacers team nearly overcame a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Heat on Thursday, Indiana's franchise player sounded a lot more encouraged than he did just two weeks ago.
It was then that he admonished his team for its effort and questioned whether he belonged with the organization anymore.
Thursday, one day after the Pacers pulled off an eight-player trade to get Mike Dunleavy Jr., Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod from Golden State, O'Neal seemed like he was looking forward to the rest of the season instead of dreading it.
"I'm really excited about the opportunity to play with those guys," O'Neal said.
One thing he wanted to make clear was that his comments following the Jan. 5 game against Dallas did not spur the trading of Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell.
"Everybody's trying to put my comments a couple of weeks ago on the trade, like I forced the trade," O'Neal said. "I didn't force a trade. That was me being frustrated with our team and our effort on the court. I wanted to motivate not only myself, but those guys. I wanted to make sure everybody was on board with it."
What his current teammates showed him Thursday (Indiana's newly acquired players hadn't joined the team yet) was that there should be more of a balance to the Pacers' offense from here on out.
Danny Granger scored 28 points against the Heat, while Marquis Daniels added 23 in the 104-101 loss. With Granger seemingly ready to take over a prominent scoring role, and Murphy and Dunleavy adding perimeter shooting, O'Neal figures his team can be a lot more difficult to defend the rest of the season.
"We had so many different scorers, nobody really had a consistent role of scoring like that every single night," O'Neal said of Granger's game. "I think [Dunleavy and Murphy] are really going to fit in just because of their shooting and their ability to spread the defense. A lot of games we'll see zones because teams are trying to slow me down. So those guys are going to get ample shots from the outside."
Defense may suddenly become a problem if Dunleavy and Murphy can't quickly adjust from the score-first Golden State style to Rick Carlisle's strict defensive principles. (By the way, contrary to rumor, the Pacers are insisting that they're not planning to trade Dunleavy.)
But O'Neal remains confident the Pacers can use this trade as a springboard for the rest of the season -- especially after almost shocking the Heat on Thursday.
"You don't feel good about losing, but you have to feel good about the effort," O'Neal said.
At least he's feeling good about something these days.
-- Israel Gutierrez at AmericanAirlines Arena
The Lakers' loss in Dallas disrupted an impressive series of games against the West's best.
Among the West contenders, only the Mavs have managed a winning record against the Lakers.
Even after Thursday night, L.A. has a stellar
Lakers vs. projected West playoff teams
-- Lisa Brooks, ESPN Research
Mavs beat L.A. for 19th win in 20 games
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
After thrashing the Lakers 114-95, the Mavs are now 2-0 when Jerry Stackhouse sings the national anthem. Sounds like a weapon they need to save for Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Quote of the Day
-- Royce Webb
The debut of ESPN.com's new daily Power Rankings, based on the work of John Hollinger, made lots and lots of NBA fans happy.
Because the Lakers were ranked only 8th.
Of course, a few hundred thousand Lakers fans weren't so thrilled, and they let us know in the Power Rankings mailbag.
Here's one telling exchange during Hollinger's Thursday chat:
John (Los Angeles): Do you think with a healthy Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown that the Lakers can win it all, or do you think they need some extra pieces?
John Hollinger: OK, Laker people, let's exhale a little bit.
Beating the Spurs on the road was impressive, but this is about the 15th "are we winning it all?" question I've had from LA-La land today.
I know you're all a little giddy about the snow and everything, but keep in mind that a week ago you were rolled by Memphis and blasted by Houston.
Let's see how the East Coast road trip goes before we start making proclamations.
Kevin Garnett is five dimes shy of 4,000 career assists.
When he reaches that plateau, he will be one of only five players in history to have at least 18,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists.
-- ESPN Research
Friday TV Alert:
On Thursday, Chad Ford took questions on the NBA and, of course, the upcoming draft that has fans so giddy.
Jim (Atlanta): After Kevin Durant's solid play, will it mean Greg Oden will still be the No. 1 pick?
Chad Ford: Kevin Durant has been more than solid ... he's been spectacular.
I honestly think he's been the best player in college basketball this year.
Not best freshman. Best player.
But Oden is a center who, defensively, is already great. Once his wrist heals fully, his offense will be better than people are seeing now.
When you look at the teams with the best chance to get No.1 (Philly, Memphis, Charlotte, Atlanta), all of them could use a dominant center. Almost every team in the NBA could.
So while I think Durant is the better player, this is one of the times when I think position trumps that.