CLEVELAND – The intriguing thing about that unique small lineup the Dallas Mavericks employed to beat Charlotte this past Monday is that it can’t be totally trusted.
One minute the Mavs are basking in the glow of the small lineup that was the impetus the Mavs used to upset the Hornets, 107-96. Some 48 hours later, that same small lineup systematically imploded as the Mavs lost 99-98 to a Cleveland Cavaliers team that played without LeBron James on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was a back-to-the-drawing-board moment for the Mavs against the Cavs as Dallas had to finally give in and put center Zaza Pachulia in the game to even have a snowball’s chance of making this game interesting.
"Like I said, it’s not a cure-all,’’ Dirk Nowitzki said of small ball. "What, you think we’re going to win every game now?
"It’s going to work sometimes. Sometimes you’ve got to adjust.’’
Clearly, adjustments were in order on Wednesday.
After falling down 82-68 with 1:28 remaining in the third quarter, coach Rick Carlisle finally inserted Pachulia in the lineup, and the 32-year old didn’t disappoint. Despite getting in the game for the first time in the third quarter in the past two games, Pachulia was the same old warrior that has become his mantra.
"You know what, I feel the one good thing is that I just felt that I’m not that old,’’ said Pachulia, who finished with eight points and four rebounds in 13 minutes. "In both times it was close to the end of the third quarter and I wasn’t that fatigued or I didn’t take too much time to warm up, so that means I’m not that old.
‘Fresh legs. I can’t wait for Dirk to tell me that.’’
Nowitzki started at center for the Mavs, Chandler Parsons started at power forward, and the starting guards were Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews and Raymond Felton. While Nowitzki scored 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, the other four starters scored just 21 points on only 8-of-24 shooting.
Despite the offensive failures by four of their starters, the Mavs, who are 34-34 and have now lost six of their last seven games, wouldn’t have come close to sniffing a win if not for the performance by Pachulia.
"I’ve said it all year, he’s a professional in this league,’’ Nowitzki said. "He works hard, he accepts his role and he came in and played hard and got some big rebounds, some big rolls to the basket.
"J.J. (Barea) was scoring and Zaza was scoring on the roll, and that really gave us a chance there in the fourth (quarter).’’
Very poised for what he’s experienced lately, Pachulia drilled a couple of charity tosses and added a layup as the Mavs crawled within 95-93 of the Cavs with 2:59 left in the game.
"He was great,’’ Parsons said. "For him not to play the first half and keep his head up and stay in the game, and the small ball lineup was giving us some trouble tonight with guys like Tristan (Thompson) getting every rebound.
"Zaza stuck with it and played well and had some big plays there in the second half that gave us that energy and that run.’’
Pachulia, who started all 61 games that he played in this season before coming off the bench against the Hornets, accepted being relegated to the bench with amazing aplomb.
"I did the same thing that I’ve been doing all year,’’ Pachulia said. "Rebound would be tough there.
"I remember the play where Tristan Thompson got two offensive rebounds in a row, so that’s when coach called my name, so it was obvious that rebounding was the issue. The first thing while I was sitting there (at the scorer’s table) waiting for a whistle, I was thinking about rebounding.
"Again, second-chance points, it’s just tough when you give the team second-chance (points) because you’re working so hard defensively to get a stop. You can play good defense and then let them get a tough shot and here comes another second-chance shot.’’
Pachulia helped minimize some of the damage the Cavs (48-19) were doing inside. But so much damage had already been done before he finally got a chance to play.
"He’s a pro and he’s a terrific player,’’ Carlisle said. "We were getting manhandled physically when I put him in and he came in and made a difference.
"His physical presence turned the game at that point and time, and really allowed us a chance to get back in it.’’
Indeed it did.
"He was great,’’ guard Devin Harris said of Pachulia. "His activity was fantastic, he was active defensively, and he was that presence inside that we needed even when they got in the paint.
"He brings that physicality that we need.’’
With the Mavs hosting the world champion Golden State Warriors on Friday, Carlisle hasn’t yet determined if he’ll insert Pachulia back in the starting lineup or if he’ll continue with the small ball lineup.
"Well, I’ll have to look at the film and we’ll see,’’ he said. "As I said several days ago, everything’s on the table at this point.
"So we’ll see where we are come Friday.’’
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on dfwiradio.com