The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Utah Jazz to start their pre-season, 111-101. Luka Doncic looked like an MVP, scoring 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with six rebounds and five assists in just 16 minutes of action. Rookie Jared Butler led the Jazz in defeat with 20 points.
With some key rotation players resting for the Mavericks, Dallas started an unorthodox line up of Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, and Moses Brown. Early returns were mixed, with Moses Brown looking enormous and the Mavericks going to the post up multiple times. For much of the frame, Dallas shot mainly two pointers, making a concerted effort to attack the rim. There were also some turnover issues, with Dallas committing five in the first seven minutes. Utah missed many open threes in the frame, keeping the score close, only to go on a late run from beyond the arc. The Jazz took a 31-22 lead into the second quarter.
Led by Luka Doncic looking like an MVP candidate, the Mavericks worked themselves back into the game with threes and attacking the basket. Following a pair of Kristaps Porzingis free throws around the halfway mark in the frame, the Mavericks took a 46-43 lead on a Maxi Kleber three pointer. A mixed bench unit, led by Jalen Brunson, pushed hard after Jazz misses and extended the Dallas lead out to five via transition baskets, forcing a Utah Jazz timeout. The Mavericks held on to the lead and found themselves up 61-56 at the half.
The insertion of Boban Marjanovic seemed to fluster Utah as the Mavericks pulled ahead to double digits on the back of a 9-0 run including a Boban putback as well as a Boban pass to Sterling Brown for a rim rocking dunk. Then Brunson, of all players, dunked on the break a few plays later. Rookie Carlik Jones saw minutes in the third quarter as the Mavericks nearly extended their lead to 20. Head coach Jason Kidd dipped deep into his bench to finish the quarter, playing Feron Hunt who had an awesome follow up jam, as well as Boban again who connected on back to back threes to end the quarter. You read that correctly. The Mavericks took a 92-74 lead into the fourth.
The final frame saw a total youth movement for the Mavericks, featuring every single young player on the roster at one point, including both two way guys Jaquori McLaughlin and Eugene Omoruyi. It probably doesn’t mean much, but after years of Rick Carlisle playing roulette with younger players minutes, it was nice to see. The Jazz closed the lead late, but the young Mavericks scored enough to keep them at bay. Dallas wins, 111-101.
Health is wealth
There’s plenty of opportunity for overreaction with a preseason game but the single biggest thing which struck me was how well many of the Mavericks moved. Kristaps Porzingis looked smooth and quick on both ends of the floor. It was a relief to see him diving at the basket on offense and not shuffling like Lurch on defense. While I did raise my eyebrows at him guarding the perimeter early in the game, he moved with confidence and didn’t seem labored, which was not the case last season.
The same things apply to Maxi Kleber who looked as good as I can remember while moving around. He shot 46% from two point range last season, down from 61% the year prior and that has to stem from how many nagging injuries he was dealing with.
Luka Doncic looked outstanding too. Thinner, perhaps, but it’s always difficult to tell with him and I can’t help but wonder if he wants to be a bit heavier just so he can bully lighter players.
The health aspects won’t last for everyone, the season is too long and grueling. But for these players, I’d simply gotten used to seeing some of them playing at less than 100% and tonight was a solid reminder of how being truly healthy and rested (as opposed to not hurt) can matter.
Wrinkles in the offense
Perhaps my eyes are lying, but there seemed to be a lot more off ball movement for every Maverick. There were a great deal of late basket cuts or dives to the basket off of curl screens, the sort of motions Dallas didn’t break out often last year with Luka Doncic often walking the ball up and getting into a set with 16 seconds left on the clock.
The early results in the first quarter were a bit concerning; lots of post ups and few threes for example. Yet the offense seemed to find a rhythm in the second quarter, with the pace getting pushed by both Brunson and Doncic. Brunson in particular did well pushing the ball and making the right pass to cutters or open shooters. I’ll be interested in seeing pace numbers after the game because things felt faster in real time, but that may be a byproduct of not seeing basketball for a few months.
A lively defense
With most of the rotation players out of the line up for the second half, this may be an extreme overreaction... but the defense with basically all the same players felt more lively? Closing on three point shooters hard, switching earlier or at least communicating switches more effectively, my eyes were pleased by the effort.
That might not mean anything. It’s preseason after all. But long time readers know of my proclivity to nitpick things to death and... I was quite happy? There’s still plenty of concerns of course, but watching a team play with effort on defense goes a long way.