Last night the Mavs fell to the Suns 121-100 on opening night, which was not the plan. Let’s look at all the things need to go according to the plan for the Mavs to sniff the playoffs this year.
When the Mavs suited up on opening night against the Phoenix Suns who, only a few months ago, were bad enough to earn the top spot in the lottery, they did not expect to be blown out 121-100. I doubt the team thought it was a “gimme” game, but getting shot out of the gym was not how they wanted to start the season. Nobody plans on Devin Booker going for 35 by himself or for the Suns to make 19 3-pointers at a clip of 55.9% as a team, but it happens.
This game was not how the Mavs wanted to start the season. With the additions made in the offseason, the changes in the style of play and the renewed optimism every team has at the start of a new year, the Mavs probably now recognize a few holes in their plan for the season. If they truly want to push for the playoffs (which is their stated goal), they need several parts of the plan to work in their favor. It’s tough road to hoe, even though Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller like the Mavs’ chances, so let’s look at what needs to go right to see late April basketball.
This team has had an influx of youth over the past few years inserting not only top of the line youth like Dennis and Luka, but also end of the bench guys that need to have demonstrable growth. Dorian Finney-Smith started last night and all of preseason. Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell are getting legitimate playing time and are expected to produce after having been in the system for as long as they have. Additionally, we have all the draftees who are getting playing time like second round picks Jalen Brunson and Ray Spalding who are just now seeing their first NBA action.
It’s one thing to play guys like this at the end of last year when we knew it was about development, but this year the goal is wholly different. We need these youngsters to grow up and do it fast. Some folks have looked very good so far. Dorian has shown his jumper is improving, Maxi looks more well-rounded and Dwight Powell is still producing very efficient numbers off the bench (He led the Mavs in scoring last night with 16 points in 17 minutes). If the new youth from the offseason can improve like this only a step quicker, the Mavs plan has a chance.
There’s no getting around it. The Mavs have the second oldest player in the league playing his record-setting 21st season in a Mavs jersey in Dirk Nowitzki. He’s hurt and has no real time table for his return. Harrison Barnes out for a tweaked hamstring. Devin left the game last night and JJ never plays a full season due to various injuries that just crop up.
The injury bug has never been the Mavs’ friend and injuries happen to everyone on every team, so we can’t claim we’re special there. Hopefully, the Mavs training staff is just being careful with the big German so he can finish the season (and potentially his career) the way he wants. This will definitely be helped by the youth movement the Mavs have pursued for the past few years. Younger legs bounce back from injury faster, they can take a hit and keep on ticking. If we can get the old vets healthy and have the youth be good enough to fill in during their absences, we can win enough games to head towards the playoffs.
Team Chemistry is not something definable unless you’re a wiz at reading advanced +/- stats for entire teams, but it matters. The Mavs have added 7 new faces to the team and changed out 40% of its starters from last year (if you don’t count Finney-Smith standing in for the injured Barnes). With preseason being as short as it was while including flying to China and back, these boys need time to get to know each other ON THE COURT.
This was evidenced last night against the Suns. There was clear miscommunication on coverage leading to far too many wide open shots for them. That will get better as the team learns to read each other and know each other’s tendencies. No MFFL wants to hear that it’s just going to take time, but we know in our hearts that that’s what it is going to take. Chemistry is like Rome, it wasn’t built in a day.
Other Teams Stumble
The western conference is too tough to just grit and grind and make the playoffs. That’s what the east is for! All joking aside, there are legitimately 10+ teams that improved over the offseason that feel they have a claim to one of the 8 playoff spots. So for the Mavs to make the playoffs, teams have got to lose. So even though teams have gotten better, the Mavs hope that either their chemistry or their health lets them down where the Mavs’ haven’t. No one is rooting for injury, but as we know, the injury bug doesn’t take sides.
It can happen. Lebron joined the Lakers who won 35 games last year. Does that immediately put them into playoff contention? Time will tell. Houston got blown out of their own gym last night by a highly motivated Anthony Davis and his Pelicans. What happens to the Timberwolves if Jimmy Butler gets his way and gets traded? Or worse, what if he STAYS?? It’s a long season and the Mavs need a few teams to take a tumble in the standings to make the playoffs.
Dennis and Luka
Lastly, we come to Dennis and Luka. The Mavs have hitched their wagon to these two potential stars and need them to pan out both individually and as a tandem. They need Luka to halfway live up to the hype and his Rookie of the Year potential. They need DSJ to be the speedy, aggressive point guard he has the potential to be. The trick for both is to do what they do CONSISTENTLY. Both are completely capable of going off any single night, but to do it every night will get the Mavs into the playoff conversation.
It’s good thing they have models of consistency around them with vets like DeAndre, Barnes and the greatest gym rat still playing: Dirk Nowitzki. I believe these two young men like each other and see how their games benefit each other, but they need to learn from the best how to do it for a full season. If they learn that lesson, the playoffs this year is just the beginning.
Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SPORTS