The highlight-reel dunks and jaw-dropping athleticism have all but disappeared from Vince Carter's game. The old Vince is gone.
Now he's just Old Vince, and that's more than fine with the Dallas Mavericks.
Carter had 22 points and nine rebounds and Dirk Nowitzki scored 16 points to help the Mavericks to a 100-77 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.
The 36-year-old Carter is no longer a featured face for the NBA, no longer soaring through the air in Toronto and New Jersey. He's reshaped his game and accepted his role as a scorer off the bench, filling it superbly for a Mavericks team clinging to relevancy in the Western Conference.
"It's not necessarily just scoring, but, in general, I understand what's going on and I just made it my business to be locked in and want to do whatever is needed," Carter said.
Brandan Wright added 13 points and seven rebounds for the Mavericks, who have won three straight and four of their last five in a last-ditch push for the playoffs. They entered the day in 11th place in the West, three games out of the eighth spot.
Derrick Williams had 18 points and nine rebounds for the lethargic Timberwolves, who had no energy on the second night of a tough back-to-back that started in Denver. J.J. Barea scored 16 points, but Minnesota's bench managed just six other points. The Wolves are 6-25 since Kevin Love broke his hand for the second time on Jan. 8.
In what has been a season-long problem, the Wolves shot 36 percent and were just 2 for 18 from 3-point range.
"It's hard to win games if you can't hit shots in this league," said coach Rick Adelman, whose Wolves were also missing Chase Budinger (knee), Andrei Kirilenko (calf) and Nikola Pekovic (abdomen). "It's something (where) we thought we had people, but it's hard to evaluate when you have all these guys out."
The Mavericks have boasted one of the league's best benches all season, entering the game third in the NBA in bench scoring at 40.7 points per game. With Shawn Marion out for the second straight game with an injured left calf and leading scorer O.J. Mayo held to eight points, Dallas needed another strong night from that group, and got it.
Elton Brand had 10 points and 12 boards and Darren Collison added nine points and eight assists. They topped 50 bench points for the 12th time this season, and Carter led the way once again.
The Timberwolves, playing with only nine healthy players, were victims of the schedule as well. They played in Denver on Saturday night, then essentially lost two hours with the time zone change and Daylight Savings. Most players and coaches didn't get home until after 4 a.m. on Sunday, then had to be at the arena an hour sooner than normal for an early start to the game.
"We're not going to blame that," said point guard Ricky Rubio, who had seven points on 3-for-12 shooting. "That's what a bad team does."
Both teams were stuck in mud early, but the Mavericks turned it on when the reserves came in. Carter hit six of his seven shots in the first half, including three 3s. He outscored the Wolves bench 15-8 by himself in the first half, and two from deep during a 16-2 run put Dallas in control.
"We depend on him for so much," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Playmaking off the bench, scoring off the bench, defense, rebounding. He really plays a terrific all-around game, so he's essential to whatever we're doing."
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and it's been a long, gradual climb back to the Dirk he was before the surgery. That buttery jumper is steadily getting homed in. He hit 7 of 13 shots on Sunday, the eighth time he's shot at least 50 percent in the last month.
The rust isn't entirely off, though. Early in the third quarter, Nowitzki came off a screen for his patented pick-and-pop on the baseline. He had the ball for a wide-open jumper, raised up, then landed without releasing the ball for a traveling violation. He head-butted the ball to the official to acknowledge his brain cramp and headed back up the floor.
"We got to keep an edge as we keep going on this trip," Carlisle said. "Each game is too meaningful with everything we've been through and everything else. We owe it to ourselves and everybody that follows us, we got to stay right in this and really focus."