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5 takeaways from the Mavericks’ 106-98 loss to the Rockets

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Dallas has a lot of kinks to work out after falling to 0-2

NBA: Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks fell to 0-2 Friday night, losing to the Houston Rockets 106-98. James Harden scored 26 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished out 8 assists for Houston. New Maverick forward Harrison Barnes poured in a career-high 31 points in the loss.

With the Mavericks missing Dirk Nowitzki due to illness, Harrison Barnes started the Mavericks off strong in the first quarter, scoring 12 to keep Dallas within striking distance. After a first quarter tie at 24 each, the second quarter was a back and forth affair as James Harden struggled to find the basket. The Mavericks used mismatches from switches to keep pace with the Rockets, but following a wild last second “and-one” from Harden, trailed Houston 52-50.

The first part of the second half kept pace; the Rockets would score and push out to a lead, with the Mavericks fighting back. With a few minutes left in the third quarter, Harden picked up his fourth foul driving into Andrew Bogut. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni opted to keep Harden in the game. Dallas attempted to exploit the mismatch but could not convert opportunities. The Rockets made Dallas pay, pushing out to a 77-67 lead heading into the final quarter. The Mavericks would not rally as the offense went cold and the defense could not contain Harden or a red-hot Trevor Ariza, with both coaches subbing in bench players for the final couple minutes.

Now on to the finer points:

Harrison Barnes is a capable scorer if given the chance

There has been a great deal of concern about Barnes’ ability following his meltdown in the finals and a lackluster preseason. Given the fact that he scored a career high in points (31) and did so with relative efficiency (13 makes on 23 tries), it’s reasonable to say those concerns may be overblown. As Bobby Karalla pointed out on twitter, he’s not had consistent chances.

With Dirk missing time due to an illness, Barnes willingly stepped into the power forward spot and abused Ryan Anderson early and often using a variety of moves. He was most effective with a limited dribble, usually taking one or two power dribbles which would stagger his defender before rising and firing. He also made a number of nice moves to the rim, particularly when looking to exploit a mismatch off a switch. The only real complaint could be a lack of free throw attempts, but that’s a minor quibble. Over all, it was a superb performance on an otherwise lackluster evening from the Mavericks.

The Mavericks were far too reliant on J.J. Barea’s penetration for ball movement.

Dallas had only 13 assists on 35 made baskets. That’s really bad. Without Dirk Nowitzki around to change the gravity on the floor (his presence results in the defense paying a lot of attention to him, freeing up players elsewhere), the Mavericks struggled creating offense for anyone other than Harrison Barnes. The only good ball movement came when J.J. would slip past a defender and kick out to an open man. Otherwise there was a ton of one-on-one action and the Mavericks are simply not talented enough to keep pace with most teams in the NBA playing that kind of basketball. With Devin Harris out, the Mavericks are going to have to find some way past Barea to get the ball moving offensively.

The bench struggled. Again.

If the Mavericks hope to find any level of success this season, they need to find consistent contributions from players not named J.J. Barea. For the second straight game, the bench as a unit was a non-factor. Seth Curry played a passable game, hitting three of six shots, but the big men really struggled.

Through two games, Powell is struggling at the backup center position. Though very active, his still slight frame is the culprit for getting bullied on both offense and defense. He has the ability to step out and hit a long jumper, but has been unable to connect consistently for some time now. Acy came off the bench to absorb some minutes with Dirk out, but mainly managed to miss four of five good looks.

Both Justin Anderson and Seth Curry played fine games, but at a certain point someone has to step up to contribute in a bigger way on at least one end of the floor.

Wesley Matthews has to find his shot.

On most nights, Matthews will have the assignment of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player. That’s going to require a great deal of energy. Understanding that, Matthews simply must find a way to get going offensively.

It’s obviously a small sample size, but through two games, he’s 7-of-30 from the field and just 3-of-18 from beyond the arc. Matthews had one really fantastic post up in the first half and had two drives wiped away due to offensive fouls (one his own, one from Bogut), but he also missed some easy attempts inside and missed quite badly on a number of his threes.

He’s moving much better offensively this season, so there’s still plenty of reason to hope he turns it around. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

Rick Carlisle may have his most interesting coaching challenge in years.

Harrison Barnes might be best suited playing power forward offensively. He can take advantage of bigger and slower players on offense, but is still strong enough and a good enough rebounder to hold his own defensively.

However, the Mavericks already have a pretty good power forward in Dirk Nowitzki. How Rick Carlisle manages to balance the fact that his two best players may play the same position will be worth keeping an eye on. For years we’ve hoped the Mavericks would find a way to get Dirk’s minutes down without killing the offense. If Carlisle can find a way to stagger their minutes, the offense could really find some solid footing as the year progresses.