When the roll call was made to list the top teams in the Western Conference this season, the Dallas Mavericks weren’t even close to making the cut.
But with Wednesday’s 111-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns, before a sellout crowd of 18,055 at Talking Stick Resort Arena, the Mavs proved they deserve a little more attention than the masses have given them.
Using a balanced attack that featured eight players tallying 10 or more points, the Mavs opened the regular season by spanking a Suns team and leading by as much as 27 points midway through the third quarter. Afterward, most of the talk was about all of those dire preseason predictions the Mavs had to read and hear about over and over again.
“We obviously saw one website picked us to finish last in the West, so that should be motivation for us,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who collected 11 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes. “But sometimes when you have so many new guys, flying under the radar is not the worst thing.
“I just think we’re a veteran team that’s smart and want to play with each other and want to play for each other.”
That was very evident against the Suns, who were held to 39.1 percent shooting and who missed 18 of 24 shots from 3-point range.
The Mavs only led 54-45 at the half, but got nine early points from Nowitzki early in the second half and found themselves holding a commanding 83-56 lead following a dunk by Dwight Powell late in the third period.
“It was a tremendous team effort," coach Rick Carlisle said. “We had eight guys in double figures, I believe, which is going to be our calling card.
“We’ve got to have great balance. The big key to the game was keeping the turnovers down, and we only had eight against this team that turned us over 20 times in exhibition."
About the only blip on an otherwise dominate night for the Mavs was an injury to point guard Deron Williams, who fell in a heap with 7:36 left in the third period with a left knee contusion. Williams, however, returned to the game with 3:05 remaining in the third period. But he did not play in the fourth quarter.
“My knee just buckled,” said Williams, who had 12 points and seven assists in 20 minutes. “I think I got tangled up with [Eric] Bledsoe, and my knee just kind of buckled outward.
“I came back in, but it was pretty sore. I felt like we had a good handle on the game where it was better for me to go back and ice, so hopefully it isn’t anything structural, and that’s definitely a positive, and hopefully not something that will keep me out of any games.”
Zaza Pachulia started at center and gave the Mavs a lift with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Raymond Felton started and poured in a game-high 18 points to go with six assists. Meanwhile, bench players Dwight Powell (12 points, six rebounds), Devin Harris (10 points), J.J. Barea (10 points) and Charlie Villanueva (10 points) provided enough of a spark that this game was never in doubt after that early third-quarter burst by the Mavs.
“You can’t key in on anybody,” said Wesley Matthews, who finished with nine points in 26 minutes. “It makes the defenses play honest, and we got a lot of guys that can make plays on the offensive end.
“So if you get us space and time and one-on-one coverage, you’ll see a lot of that.”
The Mavs know things will be much tougher Thursday night when they play the highly-touted Clippers in Los Angeles. But for a night, and after going 0-7 in their preseason games, the Mavs showed why folks may have done a disservice by counting them out of the playoff race before it even got rolling.
“People will still try to write us off,” Matthews said “But we came in with a goal, we knew what we had to do and we were able to do it.”
The Mavs shot 47.1 percent and converted 10-of-21 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. They also held ex-Mavs center Tyson Chandler to three points and six rebounds, although foul problems limited Chandler to just 17 minutes.
“We’ve got to do a better job getting to the ball," Chandler said. “I’ve got to do a better job helping them with that and help make them feel comfortable out there.
“I think everybody from top to bottom can take a piece of this loss. We stay together when we lose and same thing when we win.”
That philosophy also applied to the Mavs, who can rejoice after opening this three-game road trip with a surprising blowout victory.
“We didn’t obviously take care of any wins in the preseason, so it felt good to come out here and get one for sure,” Powell said. “Obviously we’ve got guys coming back, and to hit the ground running and to win on the road on a team’s opening night is a big deal, so I think it did a lot for morale.”
Nowitzki agreed with that assessment, saying: “It’s early, but obviously flying under the radar, sometimes is not bad.”