The Great Bench Experiment of 2016 Pays Off

You know, after the initial shock of seeing a starting lineup without Dirk Nowitzki, Wes Matthews, Deron Williams, and Zaza Pachulia, I was actually pretty excited for last night’s game against the Pelicans to commence. I’m an avid supporter of JaVale McGee, and I have a rookie fetish, so I immediately suspected I’d get plenty of McGee action and a Justin Anderson sighting. Right on both counts, and the Texas Legends Dallas Mavericks even managed to come up with a win!

Even if the Pelicans had ended up victorious, I was prepared to make my peace with it. After that grueling double-overtime finish the night before, it made tons of sense for Rick Carlisle to sit all those guys out. Poor Dirk and his old, achy joints; sometimes the guy deserves a rest, wins be damned. He looked very dignified in his suit-and-tie combination from the bench, although I did spot a few telltale grease stains from the bratwurst he’d clearly been munching on earlier in the day.

The deep, dark recesses of the Mavericks bench managed to do what the first unit had failed to do the last two times: beat the Pelicans. I’m very, very sick of the Pelicans, who have already played Dallas four times this season. I know they were an exciting, up-and-coming team last season, but they’re just a boring disappointment this year, and there’s only so much of Anthony Davis‘ unibrow I can take, no matter how good he is. The lowly team from New Orleans fell to 11-23 after the loss, and I’m extremely relieved the season series with them is over. It’s also really annoying that the Mavericks could do no better than split those four games with them.

So with 80 percent of the normal Dallas starting lineup out, we were left with Chandler Parsons and a truly fascinating ragtag bunch of players who were often confused but occasionally brilliant. I’m not sure what it is about Anderson, but every time he hits the floor in an NBA game he takes leave of his senses and starts throwing up bricks mid-step from wherever he is when he catches the ball. Anyone can see his athleticism is off the charts, and once he settled into the game a little more, he made some very nice passes. I just wish he didn’t freak out upon his first entrance and start launching the ball at the rim in a panic while simultaneously going into an energized sales pitch for the Just-In-Time Burger to players on the opposing team. I don’t think Eric Gordon likes sriracha cheese fries, Justin.

As for Parsons, he took the responsibility of being the only remaining starter very seriously, pouring in 19 first half points (21 total) and adding 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Burly Raymond Felton contributed 22 points and 6 assists as well, and Dwight Powell finished with a 13-10 double-double, including a couple of very smooth-looking jump shots. At times the offense sputtered a little with so many players who weren’t used to being on the floor together at the same time, but notable contributions like these made the game fun in a way it just isn’t when the real players are out there.

Maybe it was just me, but Carlisle seemed to be screaming more than usual from the sidelines — not in a bad way, but in an instructive, fatherly way. It was like the bench is his nest and he’s been sitting on all these chicks for several months, and last night was the first time he’d let them explore on their own. He stood by and watched alertly, offering his support when he felt it was needed, which was often. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him sit down during a game, actually.

How can you not root for the guys who aren’t getting many minutes this season when their chance comes? Felton and J.J. Barea don’t fall into this category, and certainly neither does Charlie Villanueva and his awful shooting, but it’s adorable when the likes of Anderson, Jeremy Evans, and John Jenkins are out there trying to prove they belong.

Based on the fact that last night’s version of the Mavericks kept up nicely with the Pelicans in just about every category and came away with a decisive win, it’s fair to say they do belong. I haven’t quite gotten to the part where JaVale swatted four shots in addition to scoring 8 points and grabbing 6 rebounds, but that’s because I like to save the best for last. It was also pretty evident that he was completely and utterly exhausted at the end of his nearly 20 minutes on the floor. Considering he hasn’t hit that mark in a very long time and how often he jumps in the air to block a shot, that wasn’t a stunning development.

This win definitely feels like a gift, and I for one am happy to take it. Dallas improves to 21-15 and returns to their high-water mark for the season of six games over .500, and that all sounds good to me. When Friday’s game against the Bucks comes along, there will be four starters on the floor who enjoyed a nice, two-day rest period and a bench that should be feeling as confident as ever. These are all good signs for a team that’s clinging onto that fifth seed for dear life. They won’t rise any higher than that, but too many stumbles, and they may well drop lower.

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