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7 observations following the Phoenix Suns torching the Dallas Mavericks, 121-100

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It’s hard to imagine a worse start to the season

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns ran the Dallas Mavericks out of the gym Wednesday night, pouring it on late in the game and finishing 121-100. Devin Booker absolutely roasted Dallas, scoring 35, dishing out seven assists, and grabbing four rebounds. Dwight Powell led a lackluster Maverick effort, scoring 16 points and snagged five rebounds.

The game opened with both teams looking engaged and rookies Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton showed flashes of why each were considered top prospects. Doncic scored six, got two rebounds, and three assists before foul trouble sent him to the bench. Ayton hit all four shots early and pulled down three boards in his debut quarter. The game stayed close for part of the period, but the Suns were on fire early and often and connected on 6 of 10 three pointers and took a 37-24 lead into the second period.

J.J. Barea and Dwight Powell kept things interesting for the Mavericks to start the second quarter. The Suns redhot offense cooled some as they only put up 19 points in the frame. They missed repeated chances to feed an open or mismatched Ayton in the painted area. The Mavericks weren’t much better on offense but did manage to chip into the Sun lead. Phoenix took a 54-46 lead into the half.

The third quarter opened with a Devin Booker three which was a sign of things to come. The hot three point shooting continued for Phoenix and the Suns lead ballooned repeatedly past 15 points. Yet despite the Mavericks dreadful shooting, the Mavericks kept whittling the lead down to 10 points. Timely threes from Dennis Smith and Dorian Finney-Smith late in the quarter gave the Mavericks a fighting chance and they ended the quarter down 73-83.

A bench-led comeback in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter made things briefly interesting. Maxi Kleber, J.J. Barea, Jalen Brunson, and Dwight Powell twice worked the Phoenix lead down to four with just over six minutes remaining. Yet the return of the Dallas starters paired with Booker channeling early career Kobe Bryant resulted in the Mavericks getting blown off the floor. Booker scored 19 points in the final six minutes of action and Dallas walked away losing the season opener 121-100

There’s some grumpy thoughts ahead, but I end on more positive notes. Trust me.

Dallas has to play better three point defense

Sometimes, a human torch like Devin Booker can’t be stopped. Yet Booker alone doesn’t account for the Mavericks giving up an absurd 19-34 (56%) from behind the arc. T.J. Warren is a career 28% three point shooter. Josh Jackson is a career 26% three point guy. Each hit three triples. Ariza is a very good shooter. The kind of looks the Suns saw in the first half were often wide open. The Maverick defense was nothing short of atrocious.

Where is the Maverick shooting coming from?

The box score shows Dallas hitting 10 of 33 attempts which isn’t good but it’s also not something to worry about. That the Mavericks shot 5 of 22 in the first three frames is. It’s most likely an off shooting night that feels worse considering how badly the Mavericks looked in other areas. Yet it’s something to keep an eye out for.

Luka Doncic, Wesley Matthews, and Dennis Smith shot 15-45. YEESH.

Until both Dennis Smith and Luka Doncic prove themselves as even league average three point shooters, it’s rough sledding for Dallas from beyond the arc until both Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki comes back.

Too much is being asked of Wesley Matthews

If you follow me at all on social media, I was unkind to the performance of Wesley Matthews. I simply don’t understand what the Mavericks think he’s capable of. On the offensive end he’s running off screens in catch and shoot situations or he’s posting up smaller guys, putting the ball on the floor and trying to get easier looks. Matthews is had his Achilles repaired, so having him run around like he’s Reggie Miller isn’t something I understand. At least the post play can result in some interesting situations because he’s strong and crafty.

Defensively, the charade of him being a defensive stopper needs to end. A large part of why Booker went off was how comfortably he was shooting over and getting around Matthews in the first quarter. Dorian Finney-Smith did a reasonable job on Booker, yet didn’t see the match up unless there was a switch.

Wes still has something to offer, but Dallas can’t expect him to be a player he’s not.

Luka Doncic was a mixed bag

On the one hand we witnessed a few plays like this in the first quarter:

Yet his final stat line, 10 points, eight rebounds, and four assists, doesn’t relay how rough a game this was for Doncic. He shot just 5 of 16 and missed all five of his long ball attempts.

In short, he looked out of shape. His physical fitness is a thing to watch throughout the season and at times in the third quarter it seemed he was being left out on the court despite clearly needing a rest. When he’s rested and under control, Doncic is wildly effective, often looking like the best Maverick by a mile during plays. But when he’s out of breath, he’s sloppy and turnover prone and though it’s just one game, the competition doesn’t get any easier. This is not something that’s fixed quickly either. Anyone that’s ever played basketball at even the pick up level knows how different basketball shape actually is. It’s something to monitor, but unfortunately not something that can be fixed outside of more playing time and off day conditioning.

Was that the worst game of Dennis Smith’s professional career?

13 points on 6 of 19 from the floor and zero free throws attempted to go with five assists. Back out a pair of breakaway dunks (which resulted from good defense, to be fair), and Dennis Smith scored just 9 points on 17 shots. Smith looked out of sorts from the get go, as if he was trying to out run the game.

One of the surprising parts of Smith’s game as the year wore on last season, was how under control he tended to play. While working with DeAndre Jordan in pick and rolls he looked confused as to what he was supposed to do and this resulted in some truly terrible shot attempts. I have three different shots in my notes that only hit the backboard. He missed a bunny to end the half after getting a Phoenix defender in the air with a great shot fake.

Smith has so many important tools to become a great player but he will need to start showing those things in a consistent manner in a way that’s not volume dependent.

I, we, should all repeat that it’s only one game but it’s painful that Smith was outplayed by a guy in Canaan who is coming back from a truly gruesome ankle injury.

The bench is not a problem

Or it’s not the problem, which is truly shocking when you look at the roster.

It’s amazing to me that in 2018, J.J. Barea can lead a team in assists (10) while Dwight Powell was essentially the best player for Dallas. Dorian Finney-Smith, who actually got the start with Harrison Barnes missing time, is a player I’ve been critical of for two years and yet he gave the Mavericks valuable minutes, both hitting threes and playing defense.

Heck the charge that Jalen Brunson drew and the three he hit in the next possession might have been the best stretch of play from the Mavericks in the second half.

The Devin Harris injury causes more challenges

It’s a running joke in our Slack that Devin Harris is the Mavericks back up small forward. His hamstring injury in the first quarter meant the Mavericks had to go super small and young with Jalen Brunson seeing a fair amount of game action for a second rookie.

Carlisle seemed reluctant to play Ryan Broekhoff (just four minutes, all in the first half), but if the active roster is down to just 11-12 guys, including a third rookie in Ray Spalding, he may not have much of a choice.