The Dallas Mavericks aren’t playing well. Anyone following the team knows that. To date, they’ve only notched one win while dropping their last six games and 10 overall. While there are a number of issues contributing to the lackluster start, one problem remains persistent: Dallas isn’t winning the first and third quarters with any regularity.
So far this season, the Mavs have scored 235 total points in the first quarter of games. That’s an average of 21.36 points. Opponents, however, have racked up 305 points in the opening frame for an average of 27.72 points. That’s an average margin of 6.36 points that the Mavs find themselves down on a nightly basis.
The third quarter is much the same. Dallas has scored 248 points in the third for an average of 22.54 points. Oddly, opponents have also totaled 305 points against the Mavs in the third. The margin here is 5.18. It’s not as bad as the first quarter deficit but it’s still a hole.
There are a number of reasons why the Mavericks find themselves trailing in these quarters. For one, they’ve played some of the most talented teams in the league. Other reasons have to do with shots not falling and on-court mistakes. However, a lot of what’s ailing the team can be attributed to sluggish starts thanks to the starting lineup. The same unit usually starts the third quarter as well.
Head coach Rick Carlisle has used six different starting lineups through eleven games. While Carlisle is a noted tinkerer, this constant change means he hasn’t found something that works.
“From a stand point of lineups, I’m constantly looking at it,” Carlisle said. “I don’t like changing the starting lineup every other night or every night. It’s hard on the players. But we’re struggling with this lineup.”
The lineup in question consists of Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, and Nerlens Noel. This unit has started five games, played a total of 47 minutes together, and has a plus-minus of minus-12.
Other starting units aren’t faring much better. Take out Noel and insert Yogi Ferrell and that lineup is minus-23. Substitute Salah Mejri for Noel? Minus-7. Lineups that have featured either J.J. Barea or Devin Harris, however, are net positives despite their size limitations.
At this point, none of the regular starters should consider their roles etched in stone. If the end goal is to play better, more competitive lineups should be on the floor regardless of who's in them. The lineup with the highest plus-minus on the team, for instance, includes Dwight Powell of all people.
Even though there are myriad reasons for the Mavs struggles, it's clear that they need to start each half better. Fronting opponents an 11 point cushion isn't acceptable. To remedy it, Carlisle must continue to experiment with the starting lineup and find something that works. It might not salvage the season but it will go a long way to fixing the team's problems.