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Devin Harris: The Dallas Mavericks’ New X-Factor

Reunited … and it feels so good. There’s really no other way to explain Devin Harris‘ second stint with the Dallas Mavericks.

No longer is he the 21-year-old dynamo that the Mavs got with the fifth overall pick in 2004. He’s a 30-year-old vet coming off toe surgery, but he’s still a playmaker with the basketball and could be the difference maker for Dallas going forward.

Flash back to before this season: The Mavs had four point guards under contract. Harris was hurt and two rookies (Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin) were the beneficiaries behind Jose Calderon.

Mekel may be back on the roster in a couple of weeks while Larkin’s minutes have been inconsistent. Enter Harris, who is playing less than 20 minutes a game for the first time since his rookie season.

Rick Carlisle probably couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s played.

The numbers don’t scream “X-factor,” but having that veteran presence behind a fellow vet like Calderon solidifies the backup point guard spot for Harris with 23 games left.

Anything’s better than that Mike James/Darren Collison/whatever the heck point guard rotation was going on last year. But this is way better.

Anytime you can get eight points from a backup point guard, that’s a plus. The Mavs are already loaded with multiple players that can score the basketball. When Harris is doing what he does best (get to the rim, get to the free throw line and not turn the ball over), he does everything Calderon can’t do. When you put him and Monta Ellis together on the court, Dallas has two quick guards that give opposing backcourts fits.

During Harris’ All-Star season in 2008-09, he averaged 21 points and six assists while playing 36 minutes. He’s playing half of that this year. If Harris were playing those 36 minutes (which he’s playing like he could), he’d be averaging 16 points and eight assists. That’s All-Star production for someone who’s only turning the ball over two times per 36 minutes.

The theme with this year’s Mavs is simple: They’re going to have to outscore teams to win, as cliche as that sounds. We’re back in the Don Nelson era. That’s the only reason why the Mavs are being labeled as legitimate threats in the Western Conference.

They’re not going to hold teams to 89 points like they did to New Orleans on Wednesday.

But the one thing the Mavs lacked last year, even with Dirk Nowitzki hurt, was experience. Chris Kaman and Shawn Marion could only do so much with a backcourt that lacked ideal basketball IQ. That’s what the Mavs have this year with Calderon, Ellis and now Harris.

Now we get to the bad stuff. These numbers are going to seem alarming and throw everything I’ve just said out the window.

Defensively, it’s bad. Dallas is 24th in the league giving up 102 points per game. According to Mavs Moneyball, the Mavs score 120.9 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the court. That’s insanely good. However, they give up 113 points per 100 with Harris on the floor.

Getting Harris back into game form was a struggle early. Dallas lost four out of its first seven in Harris’ return to the lineup. But since Jan. 26, the Mavs are 10-3 when Harris plays at least 15 minutes. In those 13 games, though, Dallas has given up 110 points per game.

But, Dallas has been held to less than 100 points only one time since Harris’ return; the 114-89 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 11. Harris didn’t play in the 81-73 win over Indiana the next night.

At the end of the day, the stats mean nothing as long as Dallas wins. The Mavs couldn’t find ways to win last year. As cliche as it sounds, I’d take Dallas scoring more points than the other team any day of the week. And it’ll need to do that with how the schedule coming up looks.

But Devin Harris is back, it’s a good thing and the Mavs are winning. That’s all that needs to be known.

You can reach Danny Webster on Twitter by following @DannyWebster21.

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