The Dallas Mavericks' first preseason game wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, in the classic sense ... except for the "basketball-is-back'' part. In fact, with Dirk Nowitzki sitting out with a minor hip injury and 81 total foul calls called in the game, anyone who watched the entire three hours from start to finish deserves to never have their fandom questioned.
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The final play that gave the Rockets a 111-108 win was a questionable foul call on Jae Crowder leading to three free throws for Kostas Papanikolaou. Rick Carlisle said it “was the right call because it spared us five more minutes of basketball agony.”
That being said, once we get past the foul-fest aspect, we can take a few simple observations from this game.
Let’s talk about this offense. It’s very, very early, but it looks like this offense is really going to hum. The actual execution will look drastically different when Nowitzki takes the court, but the two his two key sidekicks looked ready for the season. The majority of Dallas’ primary offense will revolve around Nowitzki setting screens or getting the ball at the elbow, but in his absence it can survive just fine off of Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis driving to the basket.
Said Monta: “We know it’s going to be different without Dirk on the floor, defense is just going to play us different. You know, we just have to look at that on the positive side. Like I said, just keep going and everything else will work itself out. For the first game we did alright, we had our ups and downs but everything I took away from it was positive.”
When you have the talent it becomes much easier to be positive ... and to take advantage of the simpler aspects of the game. For brief stretches in the first half, Parsons and Ellis were both very aggressive, putting their heads down and getting to the rim, especially in semi-transition opportunities. The drive-and-kick also set up open shots for a Mavericks team that was moving the ball exceptionally well for the first game of the preseason. Parsons knocked down two three-pointers. These two together on the wing can put a ton of pressure on the defense.
More Monta, with DB.com's Willie Martin at the camera:
Add Nowitzki to this offense and factor in Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson’s ability to knock down threes and it’s hard to fathom who will be able to stop Dallas from scoring. If Ellis and Parsons are able to run the offense through drive-and-kicks then it will be a huge luxury in terms of resting Nowtizki throughout the season.
Parsons and Ellis combined for 27 points and both played just 24 minutes.
Said Parsons: "We obviously have a lot of stuff to clean up, but I think it was a good start to get out there.''
The defensive end, on the other hand, showcased a few of the same old issues that held Dallas back last season.
Tyson Chandler’s return will certainly have a positive impact on the defensive end, but don’t expect him to be a fix-all. Tuesday night Chandler was barely able to stay on the floor as he picked up four fouls in the first half. ... while, in fairness, also helping to contribute to Dwight Howard's own foul problems (six total, to match his points and rebounds).
There’s also not much Chandler can do about the lack of size in the Mavericks’ backcourt. The guard rotation will consist almost exclusively of Ellis, Nelson, Harris and Raymond Felton. In fact, every possible pairing of those four players saw time together by the time the first half had ended. None of them have the skillset, size or strength to defend someone like, say, James Harden.
Devin Harris offers his postgame evaluation:
Harden was able to Euro-step past, push around with his size and generally draw fouls on whoever was guarding him. He finished with 17 points in just 23 minutes. The results could possibly be worse in a regular season contest when Harden is playing more minutes and the offense is consistently running through him. Expect Harden, and some of the league’s bigger scoring guards to really hurt the Mavericks this season if Carlisle can’t figure out a way to address this.
Of course, Chandler will typically be able to do a better job of staying out of foul trouble, but that’s just another reason the Rockets are a tough matchup for Dallas; Howard’s activity and positioning go along way in neutralizing Chandler’s effectiveness. To be fair, again, Howard looked more frustrated than anyone with all the whistles in the game. He managed to foul out with six minutes to play in the third quarter to the hoots of a delighted AAC crowd.
Chandler did have a great sequence in the third quarter reminding everyone why he is so beloved after only one season in Dallas. Chandler blocked a mid-range jumper by Harden, fought for the rebound and drew a loose ball foul in a matter of four seconds. Just about a minute later he followed up a missed layup by Ellis with a slam.
Parsons also displayed a preview of his defensive instincts with his timing going for steals.
More from Parsons here:
So among the top-of-the-rotation guys, there are certainly positives to look for on defense, but there are also clear weaknesses. Unless the Maverick guards grow as the season goes on -- we wish they could grow in stature but we mean "grow'' in other ways -- they will have their hands full with Western Conference guards.
Al-Farouq Aminu got the start for the injured Nowitzki, confirming Carlisle’s willingness to play Aminu at power forward. He didn’t look especially impressive early in the game as he seemed to be waiting for other players to create for him, but he really picked up his activity as the game went on. Focusing on something within his control, he started grabbing every rebound in his sight. He finished with eight points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
The Aminu challenge, as he fights to solidify a role: He's got to be more than just an "energy guy,'' his role in New Orleans ... where the Mavs privately believe he was miscast and mishandled. It's got to be every series, every chance, every rebound ...
As far as players fighting for a roster spot, Charlie Villanueva and Ivan Johnson were the only two who saw real playing time. One of them was considerably more effective than the other. Johnson was a non-factor in 10 minutes of playing time scoring two points and managing to avoid getting a single rebound.
Villanueva, though, confirmed what we’ve been hearing for a while: he can put the ball in the basket, and has been doing so at an impressive pace in camp. He scored 13 points and made 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. He is not afraid to launch a shot if he is given the slightest bit of space.
Owner Mark Cuban has said that the Mavericks are willing to eat a guaranteed contract in order to ensure the best players make the team. Villanueva is doing his best to prove he is one of the best players. ... and doing his best to ruin the Mavs' roster plans, a good thing.
Some guys are locked into making the roster. Other guys, like Doron Lamb, DB.com is told, understand that they are destined to be Texas Legends up in Frisco. And then there is Charlie V, creating a very good problem for the Mavs, who maintain a relationship with the rehabbing Rashard Lewis but may have stumbled upon a similar vet who can help right now.
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“Gal’s played very well during training camp. He shot the ball very well, and he made some big plays in the fourth quarter along with a couple of mistakes — but he’s aggressive and he makes things happen.” - Carlisle on fourth-string PG Gal Mekel.
More from Rick's postgame presser here ...
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