The Dallas Mavericks are settling into their new accommodations at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. They’ll spend at least the next three months lodged at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa on the Disney campus inside the NBA’s bubble. A longer stay would require a deep run into the playoffs. Whether that will happen or not is anyone’s guess, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question.
Barring a catastrophic stumble—still mathematically possible—Dallas is set to reach the post-season after a three-year absence. The Mavericks are currently the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, seven games up on the Memphis Grizzlies. They’ll have eight regular-season games to improve their standings before the playoffs begin. That’s where the questions start. With such a young team, bereft of significant playoff experience, its uncertain how they’ll handle the pressure.
“It’s hard for me to predict how it’s going to be. This is going to be my first experience,” Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis says. “No matter what the circumstances are, I’m going to try and get the most out of it, and get the most experience and play the highest-level basketball I’ve ever played. So, I’m looking forward to that.”
Porzingis isn’t alone. Of the 17 players Dallas has in Orlando—only 14 of which are healthy—eight have playoff experience. Of those eight, just half have played at least 300 post-season minutes. They are J.J. Barea, Seth Curry, Courtney Lee, who is out for the remainder of the season, and Delon Wright. Tim Hardaway Jr. falls just shy of that mark. Barea and Lee have the most experience, both having played in the NBA Finals. With Lee sidelined, much of the on-court leadership in terms of playoff experience falls to Barea.
“The guys, particularly J.J., who is one of the leaders of our team in the locker room and on the floor, he can paint the picture of what we’re getting ourselves into,” head coach Rick Carlisle says.
Of the Mavericks’ projected starters once the season resumes—Curry, Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Hardaway, Porzingis—only Curry and Hardaway have tasted the playoffs. Curry did so last season with a run to the Western Conference Finals while on the Portland Trail Blazers and Hardaway did it twice during his time with the Atlanta Hawks. While Doncic and Porzingis have played high-level European and international competitions, the level of competition might not compare to the NBA. The experience they gain in Orlando will be important.
Hardaway knows how different the playoffs are compared to the regular season. While the atmosphere won’t be the same without arenas packed with rabid fans living and dying on every play, the level of intensity will still be there. As such, frustrations can still run high during a game. His advice for Doncic and Porzingis is to just play within themselves.
“The thing I was going to tell them for sure is to control what you can control out there on the court, first and foremost,” Hardaway says. “There’s going to be a lot of calls not going your way that you may get during the regular-season and there are somethings you’ll get away with. At the end of the day, you have to know what you can do out there on the floor and you can’t lose focus.”
Of course, the playoffs are still more than a month away. The Mavericks will begin team practices Friday, gradually working into game shape, and then participate in three scrimmages against the Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers, and Philadelphia 76ers toward the end of July. Dallas plays its first regular-season game July 31 against the Houston Rockets.
For the truncated schedule of eight regular-season games, the plan is straightforward. Carlisle says that there won’t be any major schematic changes, although the defense and free throw shooting needs to improve. He wants the team to be aggressive and play their game. Doncic, as he is wont to do, simplifies it even further.
“We just want to win as many games as possible,” Doncic says. “Going there without pressure, having fun, playing basketball and hopefully we can reach our goal. We just got to keep playing fun basketball and keep playing together.”
That may be easier said than done. However, the Mavericks have already turned a lot of heads this season. They congealed as a cohesive unit early on and were scoring with the best offensive efficiency the league had ever seen before games were suspended in March. If they can get back to that, there’s no telling how far they’ll go.
Nothing about the situation in Orlando is normal. The players are isolated inside a luxury amusement park, the schedule is brand new, and the stands will remain empty for the duration. Still, there are many opportunities for learning and to gain experience. The Mavericks hope that what they do at Disney will lay a foundation for success for years to come.
“We’ll see how it is, but my goal is to have a post-season every year from now on,” Porzingis says. “This is going to be the first one and I’m looking forward to the next one, hopefully when we have fans back.”