By Dwain Price, McClatchy Newspapers
DALLAS — The drought is finally over.
For the first time since winning the NBA Finals last season, the Dallas Mavericks won a game. Playing with much energy and with some passion, the Mavericks defeated the Toronto Raptors, 99-86, on Friday night at American Airlines Center.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak to open the season for the defending world champions and was met with a huge sigh of relief by the 20,307 in attendance. And it was a victory that the Mavs knew would happen with time.
“It took us a long time last year to learn how to play Mavericks basketball,” owner Mark Cuban said. “There was a period of time where every play was a called play, and then we got to the point where everybody got to know everybody.
“And Coach (Rick Carlisle), to his credit, stopped calling plays. And lots of things changed.”
With their 0-3 start before Friday’s game, the Mavs had a lot of folks wondering if all the off-season changes would work. But Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who was Carlisle’s defensive coordinator the past three seasons before taking the Toronto job last summer, had no sympathy for what the Mavs experienced before facing his club.
“I don’t feel sorry for Dallas,” Casey said. “They have some good young pieces, some older pieces, other pieces.
“They’re going to be heard from as they go down the road, because Rick’s going to do a good job. Rick’s a great coach. I’ve learned a lot from him. I owe a lot to him as far as what I’ve learned through coaching. He’s made me a better coach.”
Center Ian Mahinmi led the Mavs in scoring for the first time with 19 points, Dirk Nowitzki added 18 and Jason Terry 17. The Mavs also won the rebound battle for the first time this season (40-38), led by seven rebounds from Jason Kidd.
One day after losing at Oklahoma City 104-102 on a 3-pointer by Kevin Durant at the buzzer, the Mavs regrouped and got off to a great start against Toronto. Seven points from Shawn Marion and six from Nowitzki helped stake the Mavs to a 29-23 lead after the first period.
Dallas held a slim 50-46 lead at the half, but used a late 12-0 rally to widen it to 77-70 entering the fourth quarter. Then, they kept the pressure on in the final period with Terry, Nowitzki and Mahinmi leading the charge.
The turnaround came as no surprise to Cuban.
“You can’t (win) until everybody knows how everybody plays and is comfortable together,” Cuban said. “And it took us until four games into the postseason (last year), so it’s not just going to happen overnight, and we’ll just continue to get better.
“I say the same thing every year. As long we’re healthy and playing good basketball going into the playoffs, and we extend the playoffs, then anything can happen.”