Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 10/31/12
Before the Mavs-at-Lakers season-opening tipoff Tuesday, Dallas GM Donnie Nelson told me the goal 'is to protect the hill until our Big German cannon is back in our arsenal.' And then the Mavs won, 99-91, and Dirk Nowitzki tweeted from back home in Dallas: '1-and-0. As expected. On to the next one.' And for one night, at least, the hill is protected. The hill is owned. The Dirk-less Mavs are the king of the hill. An "expected victory" for the Dallas Mavericks? That's really not the way we foresaw this one, and we don't believe that Dirk -- sitting at home with his surgical-repaired knee elevated on the ottoman -- viewed it that way, either. But sometimes, David slays Goliath. And when he does, David lovers everywhere get to celebrate into the night and day and trip to the second night of a back-to-back, which is coming Wednesday in Utah. Things might change quickly; We don't know what Dallas will do in the "bad city" of Utah and we assume LA won't go 0-82. We don't know that the Mavs will regularly made two more free throws than an opponent in a game than that opponent (in this case, the Dwight Howard-at-the-line-led Lakers) while that opponent gets 13 more attempts. But we know that this victory was a triumph for unity and coaching and "protecting the hill" against a home-standing Lakers team that many think will run away with the West. "There's some new sheriffs in town," said OJ Mayo, reflecting on the new-look Mavs (featuring nine unfamiliar faces) ending a six-game losing skid to LA, and ... well, maybe. Despite missing starters Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, and with the Lakers playing at full strength, the Mavericks somehow pulled out a comfy win in the wee hours of opening night. And while we're not certain these Mavs are "sheriffs" or "cannons," they certainly found a way to create some "buzz" where there once was a void. The hard-core Mavs fan is celebrating the fact that Dallas enjoyed six players in double figures. Led by new Mav Darren Collison's 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting with four assists and three steals, the Mavericks were simply more cohesive than the newly-assembled, star-studded Lakers. That includes starting work from second-round rookie Jae Crowder, subbing for Dirk. It even includes Roddy Beaubois, seemingly a persona non grata as a point guard just 24 hours ago, and just-signed center Eddy Curry, who was a key contributor having just returned from hoops limbo with just 24 NBA games since the 2008-09 season. The Mavericks also got 14 points from Brandan Wright -- the starter at center, taking on Dwight and the most muscular challenge in the NBA -- and 12 from OJ Mayo, 11 from Shawn Marion and eight points and a team-high 11 rebounds from new defensive anchor Elton Brand. The Lakers were led by 23 points from Pau Gasol and 22 from the theatrical Kobe Byrant. New Lakers Steve Nash and Howard added seven points and four assists and 19 points, 10 rebounds, respectively. And for all those names -- Dallas coach Rick Carlisle suggests LA employs four future Hall-of-Famers -- all night, Los Angeles seemed behind Dallas in terms of desire, tempo and the all-important ability to assimilating new pieces. To illustrate the depth of the Mavericks' effort: up until garbage time, no Dallas player who'd seen the floor had a negative plusminus. Without its starting frontcourt, Dallas secured 31 defensive rebounds and managed to keep withing range of the Lakers on the boards, surrendering a 40-to-46 edge to Los Angeles. The Mavericks' ball-movement and overall BBIQ, like rebounding major concerns heading into the season, were non-issues for one night as expert passing and awareness of teammates led to 22 assists on 40 made baskets. Furthermore, Dallas only surrendered 12 turnovers and made up for most of its miscues with nine steals. Overall, it is only one game, and an early one at that, but for one night at least, the Mavericks look far ahead of schedule. Certainly, there's still plenty of work to do. That said, few would have predicted such an ownership of "the hill" and such a comfortable season-opening win. Few, that is, unless you believe the "expected win" call from the Big German cannon.
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