DALLAS -- It took 17 seconds for Peja Stojakovic to see what life might be like playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Stojakovic got the pass and fired. He missed the open 15-footer on the Mavs' first possession, and his next two shots, both open 3-pointers, rattled out.
But Stojakovic, who took over as the starting small forward, said it was just a taste of what he expects to come.
"It’s a lot of ball movement," Stojakovic said, "and playing with guys like Jason [Kidd], Dirk [Nowitzki] and Jet [Jason Terry], we draw a lot of attention defensively and there’s definitely going to be a lot of good looks out there."
Stojakovic played a hearty 20 minutes through three quarters and scored eight points in his first game since being signed by the Mavs 15 days ago. He missed all but eight games this season with a left knee issue while playing for New Orleans and Toronto. Since his arrivial in Dallas, he has not participated in a full team practice in order to continue to rehab his knee and concentrate on conditioning.
During the last road trip, Stojakovic stayed and put in double time to be ready for this one.
"I was very pleased with his conditioning," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He’s been working the last 10 days extremely hard. Really, it’s been a training camp of sorts, double sessions, a lot of work on conditioning, defensive stuff, offensive stuff. NBA games are hard to simulate, but they did a good job of simulating it because he didn’t look particularly winded."
After the Mavs held on Monday, 99-96 for their ninth consecutive victory and Cleveland's record-setting 25th consecutive defeat, Stojakovic said his knee felt fine. It was his first game since Nov. 26 and the most minute's he's logged since March 8, 2010.
"It felt OK. This is what, my first contact in two months?" Stojakovic said. "My body responded well. now, as the days, we have more practices and games I’m going to get that feel for the game back and I think things are going to be much easier for me on the court."
The Mavs seemed to make it a point to get Stojakovic the ball early. He took four of his nine shots during the seven minutes he played in the first quarter. If his first three misses from the floor didn't reveal some obvious rust, his first missed free throw proved it. Stojakovic got his first bucket on his fourth shot attempt, a backdoor layup from Kidd.
He made his first 3-pointer on his fifth attempt to open the third quarter. After going 2-of-4 from the field in the third quarter and 1-of-3 from the arc in playing seven consecutive minutes in the third, Stojakovic's night was over.
He finished 3-of-9 overall and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. He also had five rebounds, including one on the offensive end. Just as a comparison, Sasha Pavlovic, who played admirably in starting six of 10 games during two 10-day contracts, never had more than three rebounds in a game and twice scored more than eight points (11, twice).
"He’s going to be all right," Dirk Nowitzki said of Stojakovic. "He’s one of the best shooters in the world. It’s going to take him some time to get his rhythm back, but I’m not really worried about him. He’s going to have wide-open looks on the weakside as much as people have to pay attention to our strongside with myself, Jet, Kidd making plays. He’s going to have wide-open looks in the corner and he’s going to make his fair share of them."
That's what the Mavs are banking on.