Big plans for the dynamic duo

Our colleague Tim MacMahon's game recap focused on the return of Josh Howard and how his 16 points after intermission was probably the most critical component to Tuesday night’s win. I thought Josh's shot selection in the second half was outstanding, and he lugged a heavy load offensively in the final 16 minutes of the game.

But the value of a healthy Howard for this team can't be fully realized without a healthy Shawn Marion, too. As Timmy Mac pointed out in this blog post, the injuries at the wing position forced somebody to play hurt -- and that somebody was Marion. When you watch a guy compete despite being physically incapable to play to his strengths, you can easily forget his real value. Something Howard dealt with most of last year.

But as Marion works back to full health, we're really starting to see his impact on the defensive end of the floor. He was outstanding during Saturday night's grindfest checking Atlanta's Joe Johnson. You'll remember that Johnson got on track after Marion picked up his second foul early in the first quarter, and Johnson finished the quarter with 13 points. Marion's return in the second quarter helped to jumpstart the stretch in which the Hawks missed 20 consecutive shots.

Despite Marion's troubles making shots early on Tuesday night (2 for 8 in the 1st), he impacted the game by competing against Amare Stoudemire defensively. Dallas turned to Marion to check Stoudemire for stretches after they made the determination that Erick Dampier wouldn't be a big help on this night. Big Damp never returned after being subbed for midway through the first.

Marion was one of the reasons Dallas never allowed Stoudemire to "go off" as he settled for a 20-point night -- right at his average. Marion's ability to defend multiple positions also allows Dallas to do a lot of mixing and matching with their lineups, and Tuesday was a great example of this.

If they want to play small, Marion can check fours. He's done it for years. If they want to be big, long and athletic -- Marion at the 3 and Howard at the 2 gives you two strong defenders on the wings who can utilize that length to become tougher covers on the other end.

Great defense can lead to tasty early offense opportunities. A healthy duo of Howard and Marion represents Dallas' most important two-way players. They're the key defensively, which also makes them huge factors offensively in the transition/early-offense game where Dallas plans to thrive. And for a team that has uncharacteristically struggled offensively at times this season, those plans can't come to fruition soon enough.

But until these two get healthy enough to do their thing night-in and night-out, those plans will stay as just that -- plans.