NBA's best? It's the Mavs
11:50 AM CST on Friday, February 10, 2006
The best team in the NBA was at it again Thursday night, shredding a hapless opponent and inching on toward the best record in the league.
Nothing new for the Dallas Mavericks, winners of 13 in a row over the last month.
Best team? Not the Detroit Pistons?
Not at this moment, not with Detroit losing three times in the last two weeks. Not at a point in the season where depth matters so much, and the Pistons don't have much, and the Mavericks' superior depth to everybody else in the NBA is really starting to rear its head.
It showed up huge again Thursday, not that they needed it much, when the Mavs handed Miami a brutal 112-76 defeat, doubling the Heat's previous worst losing margin. Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Van Horn each had 14 points off the bench. Erick Dampier had 11 rebounds off the bench.
The Mavs' bench outscored Miami's 49-25 even though the Heat reserves played more minutes.
The defeat left coach Pat Riley shaking his head and all but crying out for help.
"Right now, we're seeing teams that are hungry, absolutely committed," he said. "Avery [Johnson] and Mark Cuban and the players can take credit for that."
The Mavericks are taking the notion of what makes for a great team and standing it on its head. That's OK as long as the team keeps knocking opponents on their butts.
Dallas ranks last in the league in assists per game. That runs contrary to the perception of what constitutes "team" basketball, everyone sacrificing for the common good.
But it's really just a style of offense the Mavericks have adopted that, right now, no one can stop. And it was elevated to the elite level by the return from injury of Stackhouse.
The Mavericks' 13th straight victory looked a lot like what had come before, at least until the middle of the third quarter when the Heat called it quits. This was the eighth time in this streak that the team has won by double figures.
And yet, believe it or not, it's the Dallas defense that causes opponents fits. At least, that's the case, according to Riley.
"They attack you defensively. A lot of their offense is forcing you to take tough, quick shots," he said. "They do a lot of good things defensively to change up what you're doing."
When's the last time that kind of statement was heard about the Mavericks?
Since Stackhouse came back into the lineup, Dallas is 20-3. That's why with Stackhouse coming off the bench and doing the kinds of things he did Thursday, such as hitting huge 3-point shots at the ends of the first two quarters, the Mavericks are the best team in the NBA.
There's little argument right now. They have been better with Stackhouse in the lineup than Detroit has been, than San Antonio has been, than any other team on the planet has been.
The Heat players were calling them that Thursday night, causing Stackhouse to remark, "The way they got beat, I know why they feel that way."
We don't know if it can last until June. We don't know how much the Mavericks' big advantage over opponents, which is that great scoring depth, will be diminished in the postseason when games on back-to-back nights do not exist, and the team with the best five or best seven players usually wins.
But what is important is being seeded first or at least winning your division.
Johnson is trying to guide the Mavericks where they have never been, which is the NBA Finals. To get there, it's a really, really good idea to win your division and be seeded first or second in the West.
Over the last 10 years, six No. 1 seeds and three No. 2s have represented the West in the Finals. The only aberration was the 2002 Lakers, who were seeded third. But they were also two-time defending champions who knew how to get it done in the postseason.
The Mavericks don't know how to get it done. Yet.
But they know how to win in January and February, and they are working overtime to keep pace with San Antonio.
Eventually, their depth should allow them to surge ahead of the Spurs.
There is a world of difference between the No. 1 seed and the No. 4 seed that the loser of this Texas battle will have to accept.
The Mavericks don't want to be that loser. Since Jan. 11, they haven't been any kind of loser at all.
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