Rick Carlisle is closing in on a new contract that will keep him coaching the Dallas Mavericks through the 2020-21 season.
On Sunday night at the Staples Center, Carlisle’s team showed just why he is such a special coach.
Dirk Nowitzki poured in a game-high 25 points and Carlisle became the Mavs’ all-time winningest coach after Dallas erupted for a 103-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers before a sellout crowd of 18,997.
The Mavs are 2-1 on this young season and will return home Monday and play their home opener Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors.
Nellie is one of the greatest coaches ever. In his honor, tonight I’m going to crack open a beer and drink one to him because he’s one of the all-time greats and he’s a great friend.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on Don Nelson
Now in his eighth season coaching owner Mark Cuban’s squad, Carlisle has 340 wins — one more than Don Nelson accumulated. Afterward, Carlisle paid tribute to Nelson in his very own special way.
“Nellie is one of the greatest coaches ever,” Carlisle said. “In his honor, tonight I’m going to crack open a beer and drink one to him because he’s one of the all-time greats and he’s a great friend.”
After that comment drew laughter from the assembled media and a smile from Carlisle, he went on to say: “Listen, there are many people to thank for being in this position, but the two main ones I gave big hugs in the locker room, and that’s Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki. A guy doesn’t get in this position unless you have a great owner and one of the all-time great franchise players, so I’m very blessed.”
Playing for the first time since Thursday’s 16-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in this same building, the Mavs exploded out of the gate and tallied the game’s first 15 points. From there, they kept constant pressure on the Lakers as they shot 46 percent from the field and outrebounded the home team 49-42 while committing only 11 turnovers.
The Mavericks scored the game’s first 15 points on the way to wrapping up a 2-1 season-opening road trip.
The Mavs also welcomed back three trusted veterans in small forward Chandler Parsons, shooting guard Wesley Matthews and point guard Deron Williams. Parsons was playing in his first game since last season’s first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets.
Now in his fifth season, Parsons had a hybrid microfracture procedure to repair cartilage damage to his right knee on May 1. Limited in his first game back, Parsons played 12 only minutes — all in the first half — with two points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal. He was 1-of-6 from the field.
“It felt good to be out there — it’s been a long time coming,” Parsons said. “A lot of countless hours of rehab, and obviously I just got my feet wet a little bit today.
“I missed some [shots around the rim], but that’s going to come. You’re going to be a little rusty, you’re going to be a step slow, you’re going to be tired.”
Williams missed Thursday’s loss after spraining his left knee during Wednesday’s win at Phoenix. On Sunday, Williams collected 11 points, five rebounds and eight assists in 31 minutes.
“I thought he played well,” Carlisle said. “I was worried about his minutes, too, but he said he was OK, so we rolled with him.
“It was great that he was out here tonight after getting banged up in the Phoenix game.”
It felt good to be out there — it’s been a long time coming. A lot of countless hours of rehab, and obviously I just got my feet wet a little bit today.
Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons
Matthews also returned to the starting lineup after he rested during against Phoenix. Against the Lakers, Matthews played 26 minutes and finished with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
The Mavs led by as much as 18 points (88-70) with 9:22 remaining, only to see the Lakers use some strong play by Plano native Julius Randle to crawl within 96-89 with 3:13 left.
However, Raymond Felton and J.J. Barea nailed consecutive jumpers, and those were the final nails in the Lakers’ coffin.
“I just tried to keep my poise and do whatever I can to help this team,” said Felton, who scored 11 points and was 5-of-8 from the field. “The shot was there, I took it, I felt good about it, and I’m just taking what’s there within the offense.”
Nowitzki also took what was there, finishing a proficient 10-of-13 from the floor in 30 workmanlike minutes.
“They left me a couple of times on some threes and I just kept stepping into shots and the guys kept finding me.”
After setting the early torrid tone, the Mavs simply had to maintain what they had established.
“I thought we were decent defensively trying to keep them out of the lane,” Nowitzki said. “We got a lot of guys who like to penetrate and try to rebound, and then we go.
“I think we failed to close the game out early a little. We were up 16-17 there in the fourth and it should have been a lot easier, but we made some mistakes.”
Obviously two days off is good for me at this stage. I felt good in warmups, I didn’t feel stiff or anything, I shot the ball well there and it kind of carried over.
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki
Randle led the Lakers with 22 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant tallied 15 points. But Bryant was just 3-of-15 from the field as the Lakers shot only 36.5 percent.
Meanwhile, Zaza Pachulia (16 points, 12 rebounds), Barea (10 points, seven assists) and Dwight Powell (eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks) were some of the heavy lifters for the Mavs.
“We got out of the gate great, we knew the game was going to get ratty, and we were able to keep the turnovers down,” Carlisle said. “We survived it, I’m happy for the guys, it’s a good start to the season and now we’ve got to get ready to go home.”
And go home with Parsons hoping to play more minutes than he played Sunday.
“He did well physically,” Carlisle said. “He’s champing at the bit to play more, but this is going to be a gradual process and it was a good beginning.”
Parsons obviously wanted to play more minutes but understands why he needs to take it slow.
“You can do all the conditioning you can, the pool and the treadmill and everything, but you can’t ever assimilate a game,” Parsons said. “It’s going to take some time, but the good thing is my knee felt fine.
“Obviously, I could have kept playing. But it’s going to be like this for a bit.”
The Mavs can only hope that the winning they did on this successful season-opening road trip will be like this for a bit, too.