DALLAS -- If anyone needs the All-Star break, it's Shawn Marion. Badly. The man is exhausted.
After successfully chasing Kobe Bryant for 37 minutes Wednesday night, the latest in a mammoth, eight-game defensive grinder, Marion, the lone Dallas Maverick to play in all 34 games prior to the All-Star break and the indisputable first-half MVP, is deserving of and desperately in need of a recharge.
"Honestly, It’s been really, really, really bad for me," Marion said after the Lakers' 96-91 win in which Marion pressured Bryant into more turnovers (seven) than he made baskets (four). "It hit me in Philly (last Friday); I was tired, I was beat up. It’s not easy trying to fight off and contain these little fast guys and guys who get all these shots up, and I ain’t 27 no more, 25 years old no more. I’m going to do what I can to sustain it and make sure I put ourselves in a position to guard them better."
Since Jason Kidd's return to the lineup at Minnesota on Feb. 10, and because coach Rick Carlisle chose to continue to start Vince Carter at shooting guard instead of re-inserting feisty defender Delonte West, Marion has been charged with not only defending the league's top wing players, but manning up on quicker point guards that Kidd and Carter simply can't keep up with.
West fractured his finger on Feb. 15 and Roddy Beaubois has been away from the team for a week, losses that have exacerbated the backcourt mismatches. The 6-foot-7 Marion is easily the only small forward in the league that can claim a two-week stretch defending Ricky Rubio, Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, Jeremy Lin, Paul Pierce (in lieu of suspended Rajon Rondo) and then finally Kobe.
Those assignments have boosted his minutes and put a strain on his offense. He's logged between 36 and 38 hard, two-way minutes in three of the last four games, and has averaged 33.5 minutes over his last eight. Marion, 33, caught two breaks with blowouts over two depleted teams, Denver and Boston. Those are the only two games in the last eight in which he's played fewer than 30 minutes.
His offensive game paid the price Wednesday when the Mavs could have used more. He missed 10-of-13 shots and had eight points, yet still corralled eight boards, six offensive. It was the third time he scored in single figures during the eight-game stretch. By the time Marion finished fighting through muscled-up Lakers screens, the last thing he wanted to focus on was the nine games in 12 nights Dallas will play starting Tuesday.
"It’s tough, it’s very tough," Carlisle said, who reflected back on his playing days with the Celtics. "This was always one of the things Kevin McHale always used to joke about and complain about is that [Larry] Bird would be on one end hitting shots on a guy and talking trash to him and then McHale would have to guard that guy on the other end. And when you shoulder the kind of defensive responsibilities that we’re asking Shawn to shoulder, it’s going to take a toll on your offense and every night somebody’s got one of those perimeter players, it doesn't matter who it is."
Marion played "really exceptional" defense, as Carlisle described it, on Bryant, who has scored 29 total points in two games against Marion and the Mavs, equaling his league-leading season average. Marion stripped him in a late-shot clock situation in the third quarter that led to a Dirk Nowitzki 3-pointer. He forced a travel in the fourth by suffocating Byrant along the sideline and then he forced a bad pass.
Bryant finished the game 4-of-15 from the field with 15 points and is 11-of-37 in the two meetings. Yet, the Mavs haven't managed enough offense to win either.
Carlisle has tough decisions to make before the Mavs return to practice on Monday. West's injury complicates things and might hamstring Carlisle from making changes, but the coach has to wonder how much more he can ask of Marion defensively on a nightly basis. When West returns, Carlisle might have no choice but start West and bring Carter off the bench so that West can start games against most opposing point guards.
"The way it’s been going, he’s going to be on that guy," Carlisle said of Marion. "I’d like to give him a break sometimes, but on a night like tonight when we’re down and we’ve got no [Lamar] Odom, we’ve got no Beaubois, we’ve got no West...getting ourselves whole is a lot of what this is going to be about."
Except West won't be ready when the Mavs begin another monster stretch on Tuesday. And Marion, for better or worse, will assume the brunt of it.