The Dallas Mavericks finished up the preseason with a win against the still-struggling Charlotte Bobcats before beginning the regular season with a surprise win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The next night in Salt Lake wasn’t so enjoyable, however, as the Mavericks were pummeled in a blowout loss to the Utah Jazz.
The Mavs will try to get back on the winning track Saturday night, November 3rd, in their home opener against Charlotte but even though they shouldn’t have difficulty with the hapless Bobcats, there are issues that need to be addressed. As it happens, Charlotte snapped a 23-game losing streak beating the Indiana Pacers 90-89 on Friday night. In addition to seeing solidly nightly scoring and rebounding from the up-and-coming Byron Mullins, Kemba Walker had scored more than 20 in 2 of the last 3 games and lit up the Pacers for a career-high 30.
The Mavericks opened the regular season with 3 solid quarters of basketball before collapsing in the second half against the Jazz, so even against the Bobcats anything can happen.
The Mavs will continue to be without Dirk Nowitzki for several weeks and having leading scorer and rebounder Chris Kaman out with a strained calf didn’t hurt against the strangely struggling Lakers but the depleted front line was exposed when Utah’s deep front line outrebounded Dallas 60-42.
In addition, Dallas is struggling to consistently find the basket, often shooting under 40%. Although Kaman is expected back on Saturday, the Mavs moved to add veteran 6′ 11″ forward Troy Murphy, whose game resembles elements of Nowitzki’s but adds solid rebounding as well. The Mavs had signed journeyman Eddy Curry to fill the hole temporarily but with his challenges defending and rebounding, opted to replace him with Murphy even though many expected guard Dominique Jones to be released instead.
Mark Cuban assembled a solid group of new faces after being unable to sign superstars Deron Williams and Dwight Howard and many observers see talent in the current group that exceeds the potential of the 2011 Championship team that Cuban refused to keep together. However, coach Rick Carlisle has had his hands full since training camp began dealing with injuries to Nowitzki, Kaman, forward/center Brandan Wright and guard Roddy Beaubois, plus off-the-court issues which led to the suspension and eventual waivers on guard Delonte West.
Working with nine new faces from the outset and then having a revolving door of injuries and off-the-court issues would be a challenge for any coach but with Carlisle now considered NBA elite, the long-term prospects are good. The good news is that while the team has struggled somewhat without Nowtizki and Kaman, the Mavericks have been playing .500 ball and both new and old faces are starting to shine.
Point guard Darren Collison has scored more in his first two regular season games than Jason Kidd’s season high in 2011-2012. Brandan Wright has hit 12 of his first 13 shots and has 5 blocks in just two games. Rookie Jae Crowder is viewed by many to be the possible steal of the draft and fellow newbie Bernard James is showing signs of being the rebounding machine he was in college. Meanwhile, the oldest member of the Mavericks, Vince Carter, is doing a mighty fine job trying to make everyone forget the departed Jason Terry, having scored in double figures off the bench in all but one game since the beginning of the preseason.
The talent is there and the knowledge as well. Signing Murphy, who played under Carlisle previously in Indiana, may help and after the Jazz loss the coach had the team working on rebounding drills. Chances are things will come together nicely in advance of Nowitzki’s return.—as Matt Moore of CBS Sports points out “while we were all looking at the arms and legs and bodies on the floor, we forgot the head. That’s Rick Carlisle, and he knows very well what the hell he’s doing up there.”