Mavs In Atlanta: 12 Thoughts On The Weekend

This marks the beginning of what is hopefully a short Life Without Dirk. The Mavs went into Atlanta for a preseason game knowing of his month-or-so unavailability. They went in with some definitive takes on what must happen. And after Hawks, ... Mavs? A dozen takeaways from an eventful weekend:

DONUT 1: Can this offense ever work? ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: The Dallas Mavericks are coming off a season with a crushing stat when it comes to adjusting to no Dirk: per 48 minutes last season, Dallas scored 97.4 points with Dirk on the floor but just 89.0 points with him off it.
THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: The Hawks won on Saturday, 110 to 94, dropping Dallas to 2-3 in the preseason. The biggest problem with the offense as it relates to the absence of Dirk, who may be home for six weeks of rest after arthroscopic knee surgery? A lack of cohesion when it comes to turnovers. Maybe a lack of a go-to guy in the same category, as Dallas coughed it up 19 times in the game - and 12 times in the first half as the Mavs trailed 58-43.

"The turnovers in the first half killed us," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I don't see a lack of effort. I just see a bunch of guys that just need to keep playing together, and I've got to do a better job of coaching."

DONUT 2: A "team of go-to guys.'' ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: Carlisle predicted that balance would be needed, that it would take multiple Mavs to pick up slack, that Dallas would need to play as a "team of go-to guys.''

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: Well yeah, or a team of no-to guys.

This is the worst-case scenario, of course. And it's a single preseason blip, not a trend. But the leading scorers here were Crowder (15 points on 5-of-12 shooting), Vince Carter with 13 points and high-flying rookie Jared Cunningham with 10 points.

That's not enough to go to. It's kinda fun, seeing the kids Crowder and Cunningham be so involved. But it's not as fun as winning.

DONUT 3: The highlight reel ...

DONUT 4: 'Five guys pulling on a string' ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: It was OJ Mayo who talked about how Dallas needed to improve its team defense, and who used the old "five guys pulling on a string'' defensive teaching nugget.

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: Crowder (playing in front of his hometown folks) recorded four steals. That's a plus. But Atlanta shot 49 percent in the first half before settling in at 46 percent. And Atlanta scored in waves, as seven Hawks reached double-figures.

Mark Cuban crowed the other day about how this Mavs team is prepared to excel at defense like never before. In Atlanta, Dallas played without Dirk and Kaman - neither of whom are defensive aces -- and was subpar.

Cuban's prediction seems eons away from coming true.

DONUT 5: It's Halloween! Time to check out Frisco Party Station! ...


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DONUT 6: No to starting Brand and Kaman? ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: Carlisle mentioned on Friday, almost as an aside, that he's been displeased with the work of the Brand-Kaman combo.

I visited with Rick one-on-one on the subject earlier this week, and he indicated that ultimately, that would be the best plan upfront, with Marion at the 3. But again, in meeting with the media at large on Friday, the coach didn't want to commit to the idea.

I don't know who's going to start,'' he said. "We haven't been doing too well with the two guys starting. We're working through some things, figure out who's available, and go with them.''

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: So start coloring outside the lines here. This isn't just about Brand replicating Dirk. And of course, Kaman (calf) was unavailable, so we need a whole 'nother set of crayons here.

Here's betting the Monday night rotation against New Orleans (7:30 tip at the AAC) looks vastly different than this one. Maybe the starting lineup, too.

DONUT 7: Dallas anticipated a Dirk surgery ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: The Mavs have been planning for life without Dirk ... but it's a little unsettling that things are this unsettled.

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: "In the next few days,'' Carlisle said, "we've got a lot more work to do to make sure that we're learning how to play together.''

Those are calming words, coming from him. He revels in the task of team-building and excels at the task of button-pushing. People talk about this year being "Carlisle's biggest challenge,'' but of course, they said that last fall, and the fall before that, too.

Every year brings challenges. The Mavs re-upped Carlisle in a no-brainer way with his new four-year contract in part due to the believe that he's got both hands on the wheel here.

DONUT 8: Is Roddy B ready? ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: Roddy B was the last man on the floor at the final practice of the week before the Mavs boarded the Friday plane for Atlanta. He showed no ill effects from the ankle injury and was nailing 3's with remarkable consistency. If his ankle responds properly, he was to be a factor in Atlanta.

Here. See for yourself. Inside video from the AAC basement:

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: But no. It did not translate. Roddy B survived ... but he shot just 1-of-5 with two turnovers to go with his four assists.

DONUT 9: B-Wright is volunteering for duty. ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: "We've just got to ride it out," Brandan Wright said. "We've got guys that need to step up, myself included. We've got to play hard and lift our level.''

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: B-Wright was the first guy off the bench. Nine points and four rebounds in 22 minutes and it would count for much more in the "Positives'' ledger ... but he was the first guy off the bench!

DONUT 10: Dallas going to SmallBall? ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: "We're going to be small-ish a lot,'' Rick predicted. "And we're going to have to make that work for us.''

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: "Small'' meant the insertion of Crowder into the starting lineup at the 4, and then Elton Brand playing the 5 in place of the injured Chris Kaman (who stayed home with a heel problem). Shawn Marion and O.J Mayo (playing without the wrap on his cut hand) started, too, with Darren Collison -- also "small'' -- at the point.

This is a look we'd prefer to not get used to.

You lose a 7-footer that can make eight out of 10 shots from anywhere on the court when he's open, you're losing a significant guy,'' Carlisle said of Dirk. So, our game is gonna look different and we've got guys that we need to get integrated," Carlisle said after the loss. "So, we've got some time left, but we've got work to do."

How small was Dallas forced to go? Vince Carter played some 4.

"I told them I'm willing to do whatever," Carter said. "You know, we're low on bodies down there. I'm not afraid to fight with the bigs down there and compete. ... I just want to set the tone and the mentality of just fighting and competing."

DONUT 11: So is a trade needed? ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: With uncharacteristic candor, Carlisle said the Mavs will have their eyes open to acquiring a player while Dirk is out. Because they have 15 guaranteed contracts now, Dallas would be required to to trade away or cut a player to make that happen.

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: David Lord and I are working on the possibilities there. Stay tuned.

DONUT 12: Let 'er rip ...

THE TAKE GOING IN: From Vince Carter, on the view on Dallas in Dirk's absence: "Nobody's giving us a chance with or without him, so we've just gotta play basketball and let the chips fall where they may."

THE TAKEAWAY FROM ATLANTA: Over the weekend, Dirk took to Twitter, announcing to his fans:

"Thanks for all the kind words and thoughts and prayers. Means a lot to me. I hope to be back out there pretty soon. Will keep u posted."

And amid "new'' reports of Dirk being on a fast track to recovery (three weeks?!), a reminder: As we've reported numerous times, three weeks was always a highly optimistic possibility -- and Dirk told us so himself in this story from Oct. 15 in which Nowitzki tells us, "I guess a normal guy would be three to six weeks. I'm usually a fast-recover guy, but you never know."

A preseason loss at Atlanta isn't a season-long death sentence. Nor does Nowitzki's injury have to be that. But in terms of having a "chance with or without him''? I strongly vote for a fast recovery and I strongly vote for the former.

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