DALLAS -- This was a glimpse of what the Mavericks hoped their young backcourt would be.
Collison, who now has a firm grasp of the starting job he lost to fresh-off-the-rocking-chair Derek Fisher, put up 23 points, nine assists and three steals. He pushed the tempo and attacked, making 7-of-11 shots from the floor and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line while consistently creating open looks for teammates.
Mayo, who got off to a scorching start and recently busted out of a miserable slump, had arguably the best all-around performance of his five-year career. He never before had a 20-point performance that featured at least seven rebounds and nine assists, which were one shy of his career high. He was 8-of-11 from the floor, played defense well enough to earn praise from hard-driving coach Rick Carlisle and committed only one turnover.
“We’ve got to keep getting better, man,” Mayo said after the Mavs improved to 16-23 with their third consecutive win. “It was just a good game by both of us tonight. We’ve just got to continue playing well.”
The performances of the young starting guards have been critical to the Mavs’ modest winning streak, which came on the heels of a 1-10 stretch.
Collison is averaging 14.7 points on 57.1 percent shooting and 6.3 assists during the win streak. Mayo is putting up 18.3 points, 6.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 60.6 percent.
More important than the numbers, Collison and Mayo are playing smart basketball, something that often couldn’t be said for the guard combo. That actually started when the Mavs still couldn’t find ways to win, as evidenced by Dallas’ streak of nine straight games with 13 or fewer turnovers, a drastic improvement Mayo attributes in part to Dirk Nowitzki’s floor-spacing presence.
“The guys just got better,” said Nowitzki, a complementary player against the Timberwolves with 10 points. “In decision making, Collison has been phenomenal and same with O.J., making the right passes. O.J. had nine assists tonight. A couple of months ago, I would have said you were crazy.”
Added Collison: “We’re just getting used to each other. The more and more games we play with each other, the more and more times that we know where everybody is supposed to be. We don’t have to necessarily do too much as individuals. We can kind of just fit in and play off of each other.”
The question: Can they do it on a consistent basis?
The Mavs’ winning streak hasn’t exactly come against top-notch competition. The Memphis Grizzlies were the only plus-.500 foe, and the Mavs readily admit that the Grizzlies were gassed after winning an overtime game against the Spurs the night before.
Having pointed that out, there’s no denying that Mayo and Collison have made progress.
Collison has actually played pretty well since Fisher’s sudden departure, posting double-figure point totals in 11 consecutive games while keeping his turnover totals down.
Mayo has shown signs of becoming the all-around player Carlisle is pushing him to be. He still needs to prove himself against good competition after fattening up his stats against lesser foes early in the season, but Mayo improved defense and decision-making (six consecutive one-turnover outings) is encouraging to Carlisle.
“You’ve got to think of playing an all-around game and the points will happen,” Carlisle said. “When you lock in and help the team get the extra three or four stops a game and deflect the ball and make plays for other guys, it just lifts the whole team up. Ultimately, it’s going to lift yourself up. That’s the kind of game he had tonight.
“I’ll take 6-for-10 with low turnovers like he had in the Washington game (on Jan. 1 over) a 30-point, six-turnover game in a loss. That’s really how I see it. When Juice plays the way he did tonight and in the Washington game, he lifts the level of all the guys around him.”
When Collison joins Juice at that level, the Mavs might actually resemble a playoff-caliber team.