The Dallas Mavericks head into Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz one week into the season still looking for their first look. Certainly, the team would much prefer to be 3-0 than 0-3, but one game was lost on last-second James Harden free throws and another in overtime. Here’s the question for our weekly Wednesday roundtable.
Has anything from the team's 0-3 start made you change your mind about your preseason expectations? How many more games would they need to lose before you start panicking?
Tim Cato (@tim_cato): Starting 0-3 isn't ideal, but nothing from the trio of pretty close games has me particularly concerned. Two were played without Dirk Nowitzki, and three with an ice-cold Wesley Matthews, something I don't expect to continue (though he'll clearly be streaky all year once again).
Dallas easily could have beat Houston on Sunday, and probably should have in those closing minutes. That they could hold them to 93 points — against what's in all likelihood the No. 2 offense this year — shows me this team end up alright on defense. Getting Dirk back will help them on the other end.
If they can't beat the Bucks or the Lakers, and especially if they look bad while losing, I'm willing to start revising my predictions about this team. Those games are two out, and an 0-5 start (losing at Utah and vs. the Blazers) still isn’t putting me into freakout mode as long as the team’s competitive.
At this point, the Mavericks are almost guaranteed a losing record at the end of November. They play six teams that will be top-3 seeds — the Warriors, the Cavaliers, the Celtics, the Clippers and the Spurs twice — and several more sure playoff squads. This will be a late-blossoming team, and they'll run off a couple four game win-streaks in January or February. If Tyrion Lannister knows things and drinks, then this is what the Mavericks do: they have Dirk, and they’re competing for a playoff spot every April.
Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace): On the one hand, I expected Harrison Barnes to struggle more than he has. On the other, I expected Wes Matthews to hit a shot. Assuming that both Barnes comes back to earth and Matthews can get his field goal percentage north of 23 percent, then I expect the team to perform quite a bit better. With Dirk missing two of the first three, it's hard to get a feel for how well this team could perform if everyone is playing well. I'd like to see them get through 10 games before I start being really concerned. Of course, the schedule this month is very unforgiving, so if the Mavericks are going to win some games, they should start right now.
Bailey Rogers (@BRogers789): I guess I'm a little surprised. They definitely look worse than I expected, but I can't quite pinpoint any one particular thing that isn't what I expected. Other than maybe Wes Matthews being awful on offense. I didn't expect an 0-3 start, but if you'd told me Dirk would miss two of those games, I wouldn't have been at all surprised by the record. Let's see another five games or so with Dirk involved before we start panicking.
Michael Chang (@michaelofchang): I expected the Mavs to start the year 1-2, and they’re one game down so far. Dirk's been out so it's hard to materially change the rest-of-season projections already. Performance-wise, Bogut has been a little underwhelming on offense but Barnes has impressed, so the new starters' contributions offset and are about what I'd expect. I expect Barnes to settle a bit more and Bogut to find his spots a little better. I'm looking for better shooting from Matthews but also expect JJB to cool off. Justin Anderson, Seth Curry, Dwight Powell will need to step up for the Mavericks to really improve.
At the current levels, I'd take down my projections for the Mavericks, but I'm not sure I expected them to be outstanding out the gate either. So basically either 1) another week or two without a single strong game from any of the youngsters would be quite disappointing or 2) if Dirk comes back and we extend our losing streak by a few games, that's also going to change my feelings about the team.
Josh Bowe (@Boweman55): While I'm slightly worried about Wes, I'd say it has to be the defense is the most worrisome thing. I expected the offense to struggle with a lack of creators, but figured the defense would be near-elite despite Dirk Nowitzki playing big minutes. The Mavs simply have too many good to great defenders in Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and Salah Mejri to be this bad. Thankfully the defense showed up in the second half against the Rockets on Sunday and hopefully that can continue. Mejri is easing back into the rotation and Bogut had his best defensive game on Sunday so there are signs of progress.
Even if the Mavs start 0-5 I wouldn't be completely ready to hit the panic button, just considering the teams they are playing are good teams and they've missed Dirk for two of them. Dallas' schedule eases up for a minute, so I wouldn't really start panicking until they drop some games to some lesser teams coming up like the Bucks, Lakers and Knicks. Lose a couple of those with Dirk and then I'm ready to wildly overreact.
Carson LaCava: 0-3 is not a cause for panic, in my mind. Dirk missed two games and the team’s still dealing with two new cogs to fit into our offense and our defense. Keep in mind they’re also missing Devin Harris, and Wes Matthews has been struggling.
Obviously this is not the record we had hoped for, but things could be a lot worse. Let's wait to see how the team performs later in the year before we start panicking. I think Dallas has a lot of room to grow, and in a few weeks they’ll be looking much different.
Kate Crawford (@crawfordkate): I actually feel pretty good about this start! Yes, 0-3 looks awful, but two of those losses were *very* close, two were without Dirk, and all were with Wes' shot seriously messed up. Dirk's not actually injured (and looked good in his one game), Matthews may not be the shooter he once was but he's definitely going to get better than this, and things will start to come together.
I agree with others that the defense (which we expected to be pretty good) hasn't looked great, but with two new starters, things were bound to take a while to work out on that end. Even the Warriors have looked shaky defensively after mixing up their starting line-up. Good individual defenders don't automatically turn into great team defense. That'll take time and a little Rick Carlisle magic.
Doyle Rader (@TheKobeBeef): Preseason coverage seemed to follow Harrison Barnes with a magnifying glass, but I never went into full panic with regard to Barnes' play in those games. If it continued into the regular season then I would have been worried, but luckily, that isn't the case so far. Barnes has certainly been a bright spot on a team that hasn't notched a win and played two games without Dirk. He's averaging 20 points, shooting 50 percent from the floor, including 45.5 percent from 3, and is the third-leading rebounder on the team. Barnes was always the biggest concern coming into the season but he looks fine.
I'd say if they start the season 0-10 I'll start sounding the alarm. You have to understand, though, that this is yet another mostly new roster. They also have an insanely hard schedule to start the season. They'll get it together. Don't panic yet, y'all.
James Park (@jykpark): Although moral victories count for nothing in the win-loss columns, context matters. With regards to the Mavs, this means playing 2 of the first three games without Dirk makes the performances that much harder to evaluate.
The pleasant surprises have been the play of D-Will and Barea. Take away their slight knee scares against Houston, and both players have played as well as could be expected. D-Will’s lack of explosiveness off of the bounce has been well documented, but he can still be a lethal shooter running off screens, as well as off the dribble. In addition, the early season returns on Barea are looking good, as his accuracy from behind the arc has kept the floor open for the Mavs’ best dribble penetrator.
As for downsides, Matthews (still) can’t hit a shot, and Bogut hasn’t had the impact that we were hoping for. It’s still early though, so it’s too early to panic. Dallas doesn’t have the easiest schedule for the next week, but if the Mavs don’t win at least 2 of their next 4 (Jazz, Blazers, Bucks, Lakers), perhaps it may be time to start worrying, even if it's just ever so slightly.