To offset the pain of the holidays being over, the Mavericks have gifted me with the pleasure of watching them rout the Golden State Warriors tonight, 121-99. I'm so pleased, I may even manage to turn the Christmas tree lights off for the first time in a month.
UPDATE: So what's the difference between this season and last, when the Mavericks were dominated by the Warriors in the regular season and the playoffs? First of all, there's the play of Nowitzki. He's struggled against the Warriors, and teams who have stolen the Warriors playbook and put smaller and more agile defenders on him. But he's responded by learning to get the ball out to his teammates when he's doubled; he was quick to release it to open teammates last night, as quick as I've seen him. He was also quick to punish the Warriors when someone other than Nowtizki-nemesis Stephen Jackson covered him, as he did in one series when Monta Ellis was caught guarding him and Nowtizki posted up on him. But on top of that, he demonstrated a tenacity against even Jackson that he didn't have last season, at one point shoulder-charging Jackson to the floor and getting fouled by Monta Ellis going to basket shortly after. Lastly there was his defense, which has consistently gotten better and was on par with his best. Consequently, Nowitzki finished with 29 points, six assists and eight rebounds, a showing closer to last season's MVP performance. Second, Nowitzki unfairly took most of the blame for last season's collapse against Golden State, and he did deserve some blame for his inability to adapt to the Warrior's strategy, but his teammates also deserved considerable blame for their inability to make shots when the Warriors were focusing on shutting down Nowitzki. Last night the Mavs showed that they appear to have learned their lesson, with six players scoring in double figures. Overall ball movement was crisp and quick as the Mavs got the ball to the open shooter more often and more quickly. Another factor was the play of Eric Dampier and Brandon Bass, both of whom made the Warriors coach Don Nelson pay for the "small ball" approach, as the Warriors simply had no answer for their dominating interior play. Point guard play was also solid, as Harris and Terry combined for 26 points. What's really encouraging about the game is that this win is a sign not only that the Mavericks have figured the Warriors out, but that they are figuring themselves out as well; the way they played last night is a recipe for success against any team in the league.
Anyway, it's only one win, and Lord knows the Mavericks have demonstrated a confounding ability to lose focus and revert to bad ways, but there's hope they may come to form in time for the playoffs after all.