Wednesday, December 09, 2009

J-Ho got crazy game: Dal 102, Phx 101

Josh Howard returned to the court last night as the Mavs edged the Suns, 102-101, and Howard netted 18 of his 20 points in the second half. For the Mavs, the win brought them even with Phoenix at 15-7, the third-best record in the Western Conference. The Mavs have a two-game lead over Houston in the Division. But while that's all well and good to be playing well enough, it's more important to have the team's should be true #2 guy back.

For the last few years, it's supposed to have been Dirk and Josh, but it's easy to make the case that it's really been about Dirk and Jet, Dirk and Kidd. Howard struggled most of last season with his ankle injury and missed 13 games this season before returning to action last night. The confusing part is not that Howard was able to instantly contribute on both ends of the court, but the fact that offensively he was more potent in the second half than the first half.

While Howard didn't start the game, he did get 26 minutes on the court, shooting 6-of-13 including 2-of-5 from 3-point land. He pulled in six rebounds, had three steals and blocked a shot in his 20-point effort. As a result, the minutes of guys like Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas and Rodrigue Beaubois were drastically reduced, with zero minutes officially between Beaubois and Thomas. And for Dallas, that's a very good thing.

This team appears deeper than in past seasons, with guys now on the bench who proved over the last two months that they can contribute if and when it is needed. Thomas poured in 23 points in a blowout at Houston, and he registered a DNP-CD against the Suns last night after spending the last three weeks as an important role player for Dallas.

With Howard back, everyone else moves down a spot, and the Mavericks become that much more dangerous. Last night was only Howard's fourth game of the year after a brief three-game stint back in the lineup in early November (see game log). And if the Mavs are going to build up for an assault on the Western Conference playoffs, the team will desperately need Howard to be a key contributor on the court, offensively in the clutch as a second option to Dirk, and defensively as the team's primary stopper.

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