On July 23rd, the Dallas Mavericks will take the floor for the first time since March to scrimmage against the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA instituted these three scrimmages for teams to readjust to game conditioning before the final eight games of the season begin, hopefully reducing the chances of injury and progressive fatigue.
When asked about the scrimmages in media availability earlier this week, Rick Carlisle made his vision clear. “I do think there’s some latitude to do some different things,” he suggested. “An Eastern [Conference team] facing a Western [Conference team] who they won’t see again presents a more friendly situation,” he emphasized, “Everything is in play.” With two of their three scrimmages against Eastern Conference teams, the Mavericks have plenty of freedom to experiment. Even when they are sticking to their blueprint, here are some things you should be looking for when they take the court.
How will the Mavericks adjust to a thin front court?
Possibly the biggest question facing the Mavericks is how they will fare down-low. With Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein unavailable, the team is going to have to be creative in creating lineups. After practice on Sunday, it was mentioned that Dorian Finney-Smith got some reps in at center. Along with the Finney-Smith playing the five, Carlisle also threw out the possibility of a five guard lineup. It’s unclear how much this will be run, or if it will even be seen at all during a game. If there’s any chance we will see either of those scenarios, these scrimmages would be the perfect opportunity.
Are Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis as healthy as advertised?
Both of Dallas’ stars were battling an injury when the season went on hiatus. Porzingis was dealing with knees soreness and hadn’t played in a back-to-back since late January. Doncic had been battling a thumb injury that only caused him to miss one game, yet held him to shoot below 30% from three-point range since the All-Star break. Each player is now claiming to be 100% healthy, and they very well could be. Over four months away from competitive basketball should prove to have been a huge boost to the players recovery. Still, these scrimmages could be a reassurance of both of their health.
Has the defense made any noticeable improvements?
Rick Carlisle noted that the Mavericks were focusing on improving in two areas before play began again: free throw shooting and defense. According to NBA.com/Stats, the Mavericks had the 17th best defensive rating in the league at 110. It’s amazing that this team — which was on pace to have the most efficient offense ever — is only sixth in the NBA this season with a NET rating of 5.8 (compare that to the first place Bucks with a NET rating of 10.7). If this team wants to make it out of the first round, the defense has to find a way to be better. In clutch situations, the Mavericks offensive rating plummets to second worst in the league while their defensive rating doesn’t change. Playoff games are going to be competitive and go down to the wire almost every night. Hopefully the Mavericks offense has found a way to improve in the clutch, but if not, the defense has to step up and help this team win games.