If scoring was tough for the Dallas Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki -- and it was, the team ranked 21st in the NBA at 92.4 points a game -- it certainly isn't going to get easier with the 7-footer taking four games off.
That was evident Saturday night as the Mavs managed to pull out a squeaker against the New Orleans Hornets, the worst team in the Western Conference.
Dallas won it 83-81, and struggled through a 14-point second quarter and a 19-point fourth quarter when they nearly coughed up a lead as large as 13 points to lead by just one with 6.7 seconds to play.
The Mavs' coaching staff has a day to look at ways to get guys in position to score (and remember, Vince Carter's return from a sprained left foot remains uncertain). Dallas opens a four-game homestand Monday against Phoenix and then faces a tough slate with the improved Timberwolves in town Wednesday (when J.J. Barea will receive his championship ring along with his former teammates in a pregame ceremony) and the Utah Jazz come through Friday with payback on their mind.
The club was granted Sunday as a day of rest after the long road trip. Until Monday's game, here's three key areas to ponder:
1. Lamar Odom steps up: With Nowitzki out of the lineup, Odom got his first start of the season and delivered 16 points, showing an array of moves in a possible sign that he's turning a corner. He played 26 minutes, tying for his second-longest stint of the season and longest since Jan. 5. However, in crunch time Odom was not part of the team's finishing five. With 3:34 to play and Dallas clinging to a 75-73 lead, coach Rick Carlisle replaced Odom with Ian Mahinmi and went with a three-guard lineup. Still, it was another confidence-builder for Odom, who needs as many as he can get. Perhaps Dirk's surprise absence will be a blessing for Odom.
2. What about that three-guard lineup?: This was a staple back in the day for Carlisle when Barea was on the club. Carlisle often turned to it for a jolt when the team looked dead. The three-guard lineup made an appearance Thursday at Utah and then again on Saturday at New Orleans. Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Delonte West was one incarnation, with Rodrigue Beaubois part of another combo. With Nowitzki out, three guards might make a few more appearances.
3. What is going on beyond the arc? Dallas is a horrible 3-point shooting team. Entering Saturday's game, the Mavs ranked 22nd in the league in 3-point shooting, averaging 31.4 percent. That's down to 30.2 percent after they went 4-of-26 against the Hornets. Jason Kidd, a good 3-point shooter in his time with Dallas, can't buy one. He was 0-of-5 Saturday night, 0-of-7 in the last two games and 1-of-20 on the four-game road trip. Jason Terry was 0-of-7 on Saturday and 5-of-26 on the road trip. Terry had been shooting it in the mid-40s, but after the road trip he's down to 38.1 percent.