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Mavs lose preseason opener to Nuggets, fall 96-86

With four of the five projected starters out, an undermanned Dallas team begins the preseason with an 'L'

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Well, hey there.

The Dallas Mavericks are back, not that you would necessarily know it if you watched the game.

With Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Wes Matthews, Deron Williams and several others sitting it out, the remaining Mavs hosted the Denver Nuggets and though the game was competitive for long stretches Denver prevailed 96-86.

Charlie Villanueva started in place of Dirk and led all scorers with 18 points, but predictably there wasn't a whole lot of good basketball on display, as the two teams combined to shoot 17-65 from three and commit 43 turnovers.  Yikes.

First round pick Justin Anderson also started but missed all four of his field goal attempts.  John Jenkins got the most burn of any Mav, playing 30 minutes and getting some time in at point guard in the final quarter, though the experiment was a mixed bag as Jenkins had 7 turnovers and just 1 assist, along with 14 points.

The first quarter was easily Dallas worst, as Denver opened up a double-digit lead halfway through.  Dallas let the threes fly but as is to be expected in the preseason, the shots were not falling with any consistency.  With the starters struggling, JJ Barea and Devin Harris came off the bench and finally got the Mavs going, helping to close the gap.  Early in the second the lead shrunk to four, but in response Denver rattled off seven straight.  The score was 53-46 at the break after a buzzer beater from the Nuggets first round pick and local product Emmanuel Mudiay.

A 10-0 Denver run early in the third threatened to make this a laugher, but give Dallas credit for once again climbing back to keep things close.  Or, maybe these teams just aren't good enough to blow anyone out.  Either way, nine points from Charlie V put the Mavs within striking distance, and entering the final quarter Dallas was down just six.

Fairly quickly into the fourth, Rick Carlisle emptied his bench, putting Jarrid Famous, Brandon Ashley and Jamil Wilson in for the first time.  We also got an extended look at Jenkins running the point, and even if the turnovers were ugly you can appreciate that Carlisle is trying to diversify Jenkins' game and get him comfortable creating with the ball in his hands.  To really play in the Dallas offense he'll need to be more than a "catch and shoot" guy, and obviously developing players matters way, way more at this point than winning preseason games.

Some other observations:

  • Not the best start for Justin Anderson, but keep in mind he was a little slow to get going in the Summer League as well.  I fully expect him to have a big game or two during this preseason.  In fact, he has to, because with the roster as currently constructed there's almost no way he won't be a rotation player.  You saw a few instances where he looked a little slow to process the defense (aside from one really nice baseline drive that nearly resulted in a highlight dunk), and ended up forcing a bad shot or a late pass.  Video coordinator Mike Shedd made a comment about Anderson needing to be engaged on every play during his halftime interview with Skin.
  • Zaza Pachulia is a very different kind of center than those Dallas has tended to put out there the last decade, but there are things he does I really like.  For one, he is great on the offensive glass, and he had four offensive rebounds against Denver.  He can also pass, and it will be really cool to see him get some high-post opportunities this season.
  • Definitely my favorite stretch of the game was when Dallas had Sam Dalembert, Maurice Ndour and Jeremy Evans all out on the floor at the same time.  So much crazy length and shotblocking potential there, and then on offense you'd see Ndour and Evans drive and dishing to each other and launching threes.  It was crazy.  Ndour even hit a pair of treys, something I think he'll have to do a lot more of if he has a shot at making the team.  On a lighter note, Ndour had two chances at a breakaway.  The first time he was held by J.J. Hickson for a foul.  The second time came in the fourth quarter and he missed the dunk.
  • More on Evans: this guy is the wildcard for Carlisle and the Mavs. What is he?  A little Aminu, a little Brandan Wright?  He took three threes(which is two less than he attempted his first four years in the league), with one falling halfway down before coming out.  I have no idea if this is just a preseason thing a la Ivan Johnson, or if he'll be doing that when the games start counting.  What is far clearer is that Evans can be a defensive playmaker with his length and athleticism.  He blocked a pair of shots and during one possession deflected a lob pass on one side of the rim, landed, and then recovered to the other side to block a layup attempt.  Figuring out how he best helps this team will be one of the coolest stories to follow.
  • I've talked mostly about the new guys, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Devin Harris already looks like he's in mid-season form.  He was easily Dallas' best player, registering a team-high +9 and finishing with 14 points, 3 assists, 2 boards, 2 steals and a block, with no turnovers.  Kay, Devin.
  • Very Dalembert-y statline: 8 points, 5 boards, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls in 14 minutes.  Same ol' Dally.
  • Raymond Felton got the start with Deron Williams out, and early on looked aggressive if not especially effective.  I'm still not sure what his role is going to be once Deron Williams returns.  Carlisle clearly loves bringing Harris and Barea off the bench to run his multi-guard second unit attack.  Will it be another year of spectator duties for Felton?  Does he get traded or stretched by the start of the regular season?  Is this too much thought to put into the status of the fourth point guard?

Dallas gets back in the saddle tomorrow against the Houston Rockets, and indications are that the seven who missed this game will also be out then.  Expect some familiar faces to return to the rotation next week when Dallas takes on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

Sound off, Mavs fans!  What did you think of the first preseason game?  Are you just happy to have some basketball back?