The Dallas Mavericks (1-3) fell to the Charlotte Hornets (2-2) Wednesday night, 118-99. Rookie LaMelo Ball carved up Dallas, scoring 22 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing out five assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. was the high point man for the Mavericks with 18.
Dallas got into the Hornets early, drawing fouls and taking a quick lead. That lead was short-lived as the Mavericks got sloppy and Charlotte took it right to the Mavericks. Five turnovers from Dallas and outstanding bench play from the Hornets resulted in a 36-29 lead for Charlotte after twelve minutes of action.
A duel of bench units kept things close to start the third, with James Johnson and Tim Hardaway leading Dallas. But after hanging around for half the quarter, the Hornets pushed their lead out to 15 points with 2:30 remaining. A pair of threes closed the gap for Dallas but they were unable to capitalize any further, despite repeated opportunities. The Mavericks limped into halftime trailing 68-57.
Things went from bad to worse very quickly in the third. Dallas gave up five quick points and the Hornets were off to the races. A lifeless Maverick team lacked confidence on offense and awareness on defense. Dallas went down by as many as thirty-one points. They had no answers anywhere and looked like a lost team. The Mavericks entered the fourth quarter trailing 98-69.
Few things improved in the fourth, with the Hornets continuing to score from all over the floor and the Mavericks missing lots of shots. James Johnson and the Martin brothers got into it late with Johnson and one of the two Martins getting ejected after some extracurricular contact with just under three minutes remaining. The Mavericks lost their first home game in embarrassing fashion, 118-99
The pre-season emphasis on defense has been nothing but talk
Prior to this game, the Mavericks allowed teams to shoot a league-worst 85% at the rim. That was just 36 attempts through three games, but teams hit 29 of them. Against a team like the Hornets, who shot the fourth most attempts at the rim through three games, it was absolutely a recipe for disaster that came to fruition.
Dallas is very bad on defense and it starts with the fact that Dwight Powell is a saloon door who serves no functional purpose other than to act as a guidepost for where other teams should go to score. The other starters do themselves no favors, though I do enjoy watching Josh Richardson guard. The bench isn’t much better but with two 6-foot-1 guards, it’s unclear what the Mavericks expect.
Their rotations are bad. They don’t put in consistent effort on rebounds. They do not have an answer. It’s been painful to watch three out of four games now.
Hit more wide-open shots
File this one under “duh”, but it seemed concerning early with Luka Doncic giving wide-open looks to every teammate only to have one early assist. This sort of thing is bound to swing around but watching Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson, and Dorian Finney-Smith miss open threes is painful. Dwight Powell being so open under the rim but lacking enough explosion to dunk — resulting in a wedgie — was perhaps the most painful moment of the game.
And it compounded. As things got worse in the third, Luka Doncic (who is a dreadful 2-of-21 from three this season) stopped looking for his own shot unless it was wide open, and continued making extra passes for no reason. This offense has the potential to be too good for that kind of collapse to be acceptable.
There’s no easy solution to these problems
So much of what happens on a basketball court is interrelated and any “fix” comes with different potential consequences. Take Dwight Powell, who is not an NBA rotation player at the moment; he should likely be benched but for which player? Maxi Kleber makes logical sense, but he opens up a whole in the second unit. Willie Cauley-Stein should play more, but he makes mistakes on defense (he does not rotate to help the helper, ever) that drive coaches crazy. Boban Marjanovich is a small doses player. That’s just one example.
Two teams blew out the Mavericks through four games. That feels very bad. Derek Harper kept referring to the weirdness of this season and looking around the league at all the blowouts, there’s likely something to that with all sorts of teams and players not looking ready to play.
If we consider this an extended pre-season to work out some of the rotation issues, shooting woes, or general familiarity with new teammates, that’s fine. But the Western Conference is not one where any team with playoff aspirations can afford to get too far behind.
Bonus thing: the court and uniforms ruled
Now that I’m done being a disappointed dad, I do want to point out one thing . . . the throwback court and the hardwood classic uniforms looked GREAT. Even the three-point line was green and it popped off the screen. The Mavericks have been fairly averse to green as a part of their regular color scheme for whatever reason and they don’t seem to want to do a full-on rebrand. This, though, was incredible and I plan to buy as much green Mavericks gear as I can. Just outstanding stuff.