NBA: For at least one night, Mavericks’ trade looks like a winner
By Ray Buck
DALLAS — The Trade. The Test. The Letdown.
The first two were on a collision course Wednesday night at American Airlines Center, lock and loaded, as the new-look Dallas Mavericks were poised to make a move in the Western Conference power rankings.
Except Caron Butler didn’t suit up.
The team’s new shooting guard developed a medical issue that seemed as vague as it seems to be temporary.
So, the rest of the team went out and beat King Kobe and the almighty Los Angeles Lakers, 101-96, at the AAC. The Mavericks held their sixth consecutive opponent under 100 points.
Power rankings, pay attention.
This Mavs team isn’t the same one that went into February as a sieve on defense.
Butler, who is the sizzle from the Feb. 13 trade with Washington, was supposed to be on the court against the returning Kobe Bryant, who was held Wednesday night to 20 points on 9-for-23 shooting ... and nary a single dagger at the end of the game.
We wanted this to be a measuring stick for the Mavs against the defending champs, and maybe it was without Butler in the lineup.
After all, this trade was always about making the Mavs a better team, and there is nothing to believe it isn’t. The other trade components, 7-foot Brendan Haywood and guard DeShawn Stevenson (who replaced Butler in the starting lineup) showed up and showed well.
Haywood is a consummate shot blocker, a goateed guy who controls his angular body, stays on the court, and was able to wreak pure havoc with purple and gold jerseys that venture into the paint.
Haywood finished with five blocked shots, nine rebounds and 11 points.
Stevenson, who gives away two inches to the 6-7 Butler, started out on Bryant, who went scoreless for the first 20 minutes, 35 seconds. He shot 0-for-5 in the first quarter.
OK, sure, Bryant can toy with your defense, often serving as a decoy early in games, but this was only his second night back from an ankle injury.
Late in the game, the Mavs had both Shawn Marion and Haywood run at Bryant in the corner... and Kobe’s shot was altered just enough to miss.
This new edition of the Mavericks is high-energy, not just content to blow hot and cold.
Back to Butler. The official word from the Mavericks: “Reaction to medicine.”
Just that the evil elixir was taken by Butler on Tuesday. He failed to take part in Wednesday’s shootaround and resigned himself from playing while hunkered down in the training room about 90 minutes before the game.
It’s important to the Mavericks, now 37-21, to build some momentum to take into the playoffs.
It also doesn’t hurt that they do it with fewer guys who were not part of the crater job by the Mavs in the 2006 NBA Finals.
You would think by the playoff-level noise inside the AAC on Wednesday night that fans would welcome a chance to see the Mavs with Caron play Kobe & Co. in the postseason.
Mark Cuban broke the news about Butler to a small gaggle of sportswriters a little more than an hour before the game.
While punishing the StairMaster in front of a small TV that carried the Grizzlies vs. the Wizards (without Josh Howard), Cuban seemed only mildly interested in the television game and not terribly worried about Butler.
“Naw, we’ll be all right,” said Cuban, “... a temporary thing.”
While no one on this night wanted to see the Mavs without Caron go up against Kobe and the almighty Lakers, what was the final regular-season matchup between these two teams, Cuban covered up any disappointment he might have had with a bit of rationale.
“It’s just like when we played before without Josh,” Cuban said with a shrug.
Except that Butler isn’t a leaky emotional balloon and will be ready to play Friday at Atlanta, or at least that’s what Cuban understood.
OK, the real acid test has been postponed until further notice.
But that’s OK.
See you, maybe, in the playoffs, Lakers.
At least that’s what the noise level inside the AAC seemed to be saying Wednesday night.