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Mavs spoil Lakers' unveiling of new stars

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers discovered on opening night that four superstars do not a team make.

The Dallas Mavericks, meanwhile, discovered life without their one star isn't quite so glum.

With Dirk Nowitzki out after knee surgery, Dallas marched into Staples Center and spoiled the Lakers debuts of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, taking a 99-91 win Tuesday.

It was no Dirk, no matter for the Mavericks, who offered a united front in dismissing Los Angeles.

Dallas had six players score in double figures, led by Darren Collison, who had 17 points. Brandan Wright had 14 points for Dallas, hitting all five of his shots from the floor, and three more Mavericks contributed at least seven points in the balanced effort.

After falling behind 29-25 through one quarter, Dallas outscored Los Angeles in each of the remaining three quarters.

"If you execute in this league and you have talent, you have a chance to win," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "That's the balance you have to have without a game changer like Nowitzki. You have got to have balance. You have to have a collective understanding of what style you need to play.

"Tonight, we made strides."

After just one game, though, it appears as if the Lakers took a step back, and that's even with the massive leaps forward they made since last season. Nash and Howard, who joined Lakers mainstays Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in the offseason, played a combined 72-plus minutes, but they rarely formed a cohesive unit.

Howard scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and added 10 rebounds, but Nash managed just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting and had only four assists.

"We had to make him make a decision on what he wanted to do," Dallas forward Shawn Marion said about Howard. "You try to make Dwight ... play ball. When you take away his easy dunks, his easy opportunities, make him do other things, it makes it hard."

Bryant, who played despite a foot injury, had 22 points but only one rebound and no assists.

Asked if he got clearance from the medical staff to play after sitting out more than a week, Bryant said, according to the Los Angeles Times, "I never get clearance. Either I'm ready to go or I'm not ready to go. They've done a great job treating me and getting me ready. We've been together for so long. They trust my judgment."

Gasol led all players with 23 points and 13 rebounds.

"It's a product of us not knowing what to do," Lakers coach Mike Brown said of the team's offensive issues, which included 23 percent 3-point shooting and seven fewer shot attempts than Dallas took despite outrebounding the Mavericks 46-40. "If the ball is sticking to one side of the floor, it means we don't know what we're doing out there. It stuck on one side quite a bit."

Worse than the offensive output, Brown said, was the team's poor defensive rotations.

Los Angeles' big weakness was believed to be a less-than-spectacular bench, and reserve play proved to be an issue in the opener. The Mavericks' backups outscored the Lakers' backups 37-17.

With Nowitzki sidelined for three to six weeks, the Mavericks turned to a rather unheralded roster, spreading the wealth. Dallas took a 48-46 halftime lead as UCLA product Collison returned to Southern California to lead the team with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. The Mavericks also got 22 first-half bench points to Los Angeles' nine.

O.J. Mayo and rookie Jae Crowder added eight points each before the half for the Mavericks, who connected on 21 of 47 shots.

"We talk about having five guys on a string defensively," Brown said. "That's something I've always used. If that ball moves, whether it's on the dribble or on the pass, all five guys should move."

Gasol led all scorers in the first half with 12 points, and Bryant connected on five of six shots for 10 points.

"We would've liked to win tonight; we didn't get it done," Gasol said. "But we've got another game (Wednesday) in Portland. Probably a tougher game than tonight, so we've just got to look ahead and try to understand the things we can control and get better at are in our hands. If we do that, we'll be in much better shape. Tonight it didn't happen for us."

Nash added, "I expected to win, for sure, but I knew we were going to struggle offensively at times. I thought there were some good stretches early, and we got really bogged down in the second half. But for a while, we couldn't stop them, either."

NOTES: Dallas center Chris Kaman joined the team for the road trip, unlike Nowtizki, but he did not play because of a strained right calf. He also won't play Wednesday in Utah because of the injury. On average, Kaman has missed more than 30 games per year over the past five seasons. ... Los Angeles swept last season's series with the Mavericks 4-0. ... The Lakers opened the season at home for the seventh consecutive year.

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