Following a statement 108-106 road win against the Portland Trail Blazers, it's clear that Dirk Nowitzki is still an NBA alpha dog who can carry the Dallas Mavericks, but Monta Ellis is just what this team needed to contend for a playoff berth.
Nowitzki played just 53 games during an injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign. Without their star player, the Mavs were 13-16. With Nowitzki in the lineup, they posted a 28-25 record.
The 7-footer from Germany led the Mavericks to that mark despite playing beside Elton Brand’s cadaver, the underwhelming point guard tandem of Darren Collison and Mike James and O.J. Mayo—who choked away wins with sloppy crunch-time ball-handling.
This season, with a revamped supporting cast that features Ellis, Jose Calderon and DeJuan Blair, the Mavericks are serious contenders for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference.
The two-headed monster of Nowitzki and Ellis was on full display Saturday night against the Trail Blazers. In crunch time, those two players took over with cold-blooded performances (despite Ellis’s late-game turnovers).
Of the final 14 points the Mavs scored, Dirk scored the first seven, while Monta took over for the remainder, including the game-winning buzzer-beater.
When asked after the game what compelled the 28-year-old to take the clutch shot, Ellis said, “Man, I was born for it.”
That’s exactly the type of swagger and confidence Nowitzki needs in a wingman.
While Ellis will certainly earn praise for making the game-winner, he should also be recognized for his shooting improvements this season. Here are his shooting splits in 2013-14 compared to last year when Ellis was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks (with shot charts courtesy of Vorped.com):
2012-13 (with Bucks): 41.6 percent from the field, 28.7 percent from three-point range and 77.3 percent from the free-throw line.
2013-14 (with Mavericks): 47.1 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from three-point range and 84.1 percent from the free-throw line.
His shooting efficiency has improved across the board compared to a year ago, which has been a huge X-factor for the Mavericks’ success.
In the win over the Trail Blazers, Nowitzki finished with 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting (54.5 percent) to go with six rebounds and seven assists. Ellis notched 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting (50 percent) while adding two rebounds and seven assists.
If head coach Rick Carlisle can get that type of production from his two best players, Dallas will continue to be a tough team to beat moving forward.
The elephant in the room right now, though, is poor defense. The Mavs rank 22nd in the league, allowing 101.7 points per game.
Neither Nowitzki nor Ellis is known for lockdown D, so adding defensive talent at the trade deadline is something the front office should look into.
Although the Mavericks have their fair share of flaws, the postseason looks like a real possibility.
As long as Nowitzki and Ellis continue to develop team chemistry, their one-two punch will be tough to stop.
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