DALLAS - It is impossible to have pulled up a chair for Wednesday's Thanksgiving Eve meeting between the Mavs and the visiting Knicks and not experience some melancholia. But in the end - a Mavs 114-111 thriller of a victory - it was also impossible to not experience some mirth.
With Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd flanking a superstar forward, the New York Knicks represent for the Mavericks what was ... and what might have been again. Yet minus their own star forward, Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas managed to outlast the Knicks, hanging on for a 114-111 victory at the American Airlines Center.
The replacements of Chandler and Kidd, Chris Kaman and Darren Collison, respectively, have shone brightly at times this season. However, Chandler once again reminded all in attendance why he merits the title of Greatest Maverick Center Ever, with 21 points, 13 rebounds and boundless athleticism. Chandlers departure remains one of the most controversial moves of the Cuban Era Mavericks and despite any of our deep CBA contemplations, seems to grow more difficult to swallow with each successive Chandler achievement.
Jason Kidd, another Maverick who left on slightly contentious terms after seeming to agree on a three-year deal with Dallas only to bolt for New York, stuffed the box score with a season-best 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals.
"Never underestimate greatness, at any age," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said in praise of the 39-year-old Kidd.
His Mavericks replacement, Collison, perhaps playing with a bit more motivation and focus, led Dallas with 19 points, and seven assists.
Of late, Collison has been easier to underestimate.
"I circled this game on my calendar and I wanted to make sure that I brought it this game," said Collison when asked about his motivation for this rematch after a poor showing in New York in the previous meetings between these clubs. "I really just wanted to come out tonight and play aggressive and it worked out well."
Collison's quickness and athleticism are clearly superior to Kidds in his 19th NBA season, but Collison is far from the game-manager Kidd is. basketball IQ is his thing -- and Mavs fans at the American Airlines Center showed their basketball IQ, too, by giving Kidd and Chandler a warm greeting. However, for a moment, anyway, in the waning seconds with Dallas needing a basket, Kidd got the better of the matchup as Collison wasnt able to shake the wily veteran on a drive to the basket.
Collison was forced to put up an airball that left 24 seconds on the clock and the Mavs clinging to a one-point lead.
"We kind of had a little let down towards the end of the game, but what Im proud of is that even though we had a letdown we still grinded it out and got the win," Collison said.
Dallas did that despite the fact that the Knicks enjoyed six players in double figures while only using three members off their bench. Superstar forward Carmelo Anthony netted a team-high 23 points and six rebounds while struggling at times to shoot over Shawn Marion -- as was the case on the final Knicks possession when his defense forced a Melo double-pump miss.
"I always like Shawn's odds in those situations where he can play a guy one-on-one," Carlisle said. "He's the best we have."
Melo didn't have it going in the early stages of the contest, yet the Knicks looked to be simply too much for a Nowitzki-less Mavs, gaining a double-digit lead in the first quarter. However, the Mavericks used a 29-10 run from the mid-third quarter to the early fourth to build a sufficient lead to allow them to hang on for the victory. They also rode O.J. Mayo, who continues to prove extremely capable of carrying the Mavericks offense for stretches, as he netted 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 3-of-7 from the arc.
Just as key offensively: The much-maligned Vince Carter, who scored 25 points in 23 minutes. His shot selection remained iffy, but he made so many of those shots ...
Meanwhile, Jae Crowder added 12 points with timely shooting and provided excellent situational defense on Anthony. Chris Kaman also chipped in 10 points and five rebounds. Dallas scored 65 points in the second half and after committing 11 turnovers in the first, coughed it up just three times in the second to help hand the Knicks just their second loss of the season (New York moved to 8-2 on the year).
"Dallas has the best fans and this is a great sports town," said Kidd, who is trying to lead the Knicks to the lofty heights he experienced in DFW as a 2011 champion. "A warm welcoming is always appreciated. It's always good to come back to Dallas."
Kidd is obviously happy with his decision to divorce Dallas. We can argue that at 7-6 the Mavericks are not where they want to be. Yet the plan of this early season was to keep their heads above water until the Nowitzki ship came in.
For one night, at least, "what might have been" doesn't have to be about regret, but rather about promise for Dallas. With a roster that may yet be gelling after a close win over a quality opponent and Nowitzki set to resume basketball actions in the next two weeks, there are signs of hope in Dallas.
The heads are above water. There is some Mavs buoyancy. There might even