That Florid, Floating Dungeon Called Home
I'm wary of turning these first few weeks into "FD: Yay or Nay?" for teams that have reconfigured during the off-season. But when these moments strike, I feel obliged to speak up—atone, even, when it's a squad I've dumped on in the past. While it's not exactly eating crow, since I stand by my right to have opinions, sometimes I go too far (okay, usually), and when there's a shift I swing back in the other direction and get outright penitent.
All of which is a long way of saying: Welcome back, Mavs. I know you lost that game, to a Rockets team that, despite a T-Mac who looked some combination of hurt, old, bothered by Artest, or morphing into a true point forward, had CONTENDER written all over them. You could feel Artest's presence throughout the game, mostly in the way that the undersized PF corps suddenly seemed like a movement, an undercurrent of grit and determination that really buoyed the more courtly Yao and McGrady. That's where he seemed to fit in best, not as a member of a mythical Big Three. And he was piling up points, some smart, some stupid, but never so crazy that he threw off the team's rhythm—and that was before he effectively took over the game when it needed sealing. In this respect, almost like a second T-Mac.
Still, what got me most thrilled about that game the Mavs. I know, I know, all I care about is running and flexibility. But after having spent so much time irritated by Avery's attempt to Spurs-ify Dallas, and after this summer, badly wanting to see Howard make a statement, when that team had it going I felt like I was turning up an old favorite that had previously been buried. Dirk went inside some, and yet also felt free to launch off from anywhere. The main thing was that he was fluid, not forced or strained. I may not love Jason Kidd, but in Carlisle's offense—yes, a ton of credit is due there—when he sets people up, it's for them to make a move, prove their worth, keep the game in motion. He looks happier, they look happier, and honestly, again Nowitzki can frighten you with his sheer strangeness.
And then there was Howard. Night and day from the disastrous end to last season. He got to handle the ball to get in rhythm, sometimes even bringing it up the court. He was daring but not careless, believing in his elastic, bounding moves in a way he just didn't seem to last spring. Like Dirk, nothing was forced, and yet there was an edge of danger and imagination that made you realize that this team wasn't going to be predicable, or conservative. This team is good enough to run, and resolve what might initially look crazy or out of control into a smart decision. Contrast that with the New Knicks, who at their best last night needed to think first about being smart, then gamble a little.
I'm pretty sure that Houston has the capacity to be more of a defensive force; Dallas, who knows. But for my twisted purposes, welcome back, guys.
BONUS: Steinz does a Q&A with yours truly, commenters revolt.
-Part one of "Draft Daze," a Dallas Penn-approve short about one man and his hoops dream.
-If you haven't already, check the new shirts. They will upend you.