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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks face the Knicks

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The Mavs head home in an effort to right the ship early in the season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (2-6) return to the AAC Friday night, hosting the New York Knicks (2-6) in their first matchup of the young season. The Mavericks are trying to break free of a five game losing streak, something the Knicks have already gone through this season as well. Rick Carlisle just wrapped up two road games that both ended as heartbreakers — the first in San Antonio needing overtime to decide it, and a game-tying floater by Luka Doncic in Los Angeles being negated by a sloppy Wesley Matthews foul giving LeBron the chance to win it at the free throw line.

This is the first of two home games for the Mavs, who will have a few days in between matchups. Perhaps it will provide a chance for the team to get their head on straight and hit an early reset button on what has been a tough way to start the season. Here’s what to watch for and think about in this Friday night tilt:

When do games start feeling like must-wins?

No one should be hitting a panic button, or threatening to blow the team up. A lot of what has gone on in these first few weeks really do reflect where this team is in its rebuild journey. It will take time.

That being said, the Mavs’ upcoming schedule isn’t for the weakhearted. Scanning records of future November opponents doesn’t paint the clearest picture of who they will face, with many of these talented teams still getting their footing. If Carlisle & Co. don’t want to be playing from behind the 8-ball from the jump, they really need to start winning games they “should win”. The Mavs simply haven’t done that for the most part in the first eight games.

Considering trips to Phoenix and Atlanta, they probably should be 4-4 — making the early outlook a little different. And that doesn’t include the last two games, which were very much winnable. This is where young teams slip, and hopefully where they learn the most. And maybe soon, they’ll start closing these close ones out. Otherwise, this could get away from them in a hurry.

Point Luka

Even with his assist numbers being a little lower than some expected from the start, Luka Doncic is second among rookies in assists per game with 4.4 (Trae Young leads rookies with just under seven per). And while his turnover numbers have not been pretty, it would be nice to see Carlisle expand his role as a primary playmaker more.

Doncic has had some bright moments in clutch situations already, including his shot against the Lakers Wednesday night. And his comfort with this level of competition will only grow. It’s likely that Carlisle will play with a variety of ways to use him in unique sets to find mismatches all over the floor. And it appears the best mismatch they can deploy is Doncic initiating the offense from the point position. Facing a team like the Knicks may be the best opportunity to experiment more with that, before the opponents get tougher later in the month.

Too many bad starts

The Mavs are giving up an average of 32 points in first quarters this season (the most of any quarter). Made worse by the fact that they have been outscored by 38 points in all the first quarters combined. And that number is only watered down by the Atlanta game, where the Mavs were up by 20 after one.

It ‘s hard to say this early in the season what specifically is causing such slow starts from Dallas. It’s easy to point out that opponents are still shooting 48 percent from three against the Mavs, the worst mark in the league. But it’s more than just hot shooting from deep. And the Mavericks simply can’t afford to play from behind from the tip.

How to Watch

Tip off is set for 7:30 CT, and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app, or NBA League Pass.