HOUSTON -- Until Dirk Nowitzki returns sometime next month from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the Dallas Mavericks will only go as far as O.J. Mayo takes them.
In other words, for now the Mavs (9-10) are Mayo's team. And the statistics bear that out.
Going into tonight's contest against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center, Mayo averages 24.1 points and is shooting 53.5 percent from the field and 59.6 percent from 3-point range in the Mavs' nine wins. But in their 10 losses, the fifth-year guard averages just 16 points, shoots only 40.7 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point territory.
The contrast is something Mayo explains easily.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Obviously when you do lose, you probably didn't shoot the ball very well," Mayo said. "Unless you shot a high percentage and the other team shoots a better percentage.
"But even when we don't have a great offensive game we've still got to find a way to win. And that's picking it up on defense and making an ugly offensive night into an ugly win."
Because Mayo, for now, is the Mavs' top scoring threat, teams are trying to stack the deck and defend him harder. Plus, the man Mayo guards often gets overly aggressive at the offensive end of the floor in hopes that Mayo will expend extra energy trying to slow him down.
"It seems like a lot of teams are coming more in my direction, whether they think I'm a weakness on defense or they're just trying to make me work on both ends of the floor," Mayo said. "I've just got to accept the challenge and go out there and compete."
After the Memphis Grizzlies failed to make Mayo a qualifying offer this past summer, the Mavs hopped in and signed the USC product to a two-year contract. Mayo will collect $4.02 million this year and has a player option next season for $4.2 million.
Mayo started his first two seasons with the Grizzlies, but came off the bench the last two years. After losing Jason Terry via free agency to the Boston Celtics, the Mavs had a vacancy for Mayo.
"I don't know many players who don't want to start," coach Rick Carlisle said. "There's some that are willing, and every once in a while you get a guy like Jason Terry that embraces it and really views it as a different kind of thing.
"O.J. has shown that he's a team guy -- he went along with that in Memphis and did a terrific job with that. Our situation is different, and we need him to be a starter here."
Mayo is eighth in the NBA in scoring at 19.8 points per game, shooting 47.3 percent from the field, and ranks second in the league in 3-point shooting at 51 percent.
For now, Mayo knows on most nights he's going to be the Mavs' go-to player when they need a key bucket like the one he hit with 34.6 seconds left that snapped an 87-all tie and helped Dallas beat Phoenix on Thursday 97-94. Thus, he's more than prepared to remain aggressive on both ends of the court.
Asked if he's salivating at the mere thought of playing with Nowitzki, who has yet to play this season, Mayo said:
"I think we all are. It's going to be fine. It gives us our best weapon out there, and obviously he's our franchise player and our leader."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760