The Dallas Mavericks defeated the New Orleans Pelicans in Dallas by a score of 108-92. Luka Doncic scored 25 points to lead Dallas, while Jonas Valanciunas and Josh Hart scored 22 each to lead the Pelicans in defeat.
Dallas came into this matchup as something of a homestand hero, winning four of their first five games in the AAC. Against a beleaguered Pelicans squad missing both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, Dallas got the job done once again, as expected.
It wasn’t always the convincing win the final score may lead you to believe. Dallas was actually trailing after the opening frame, giving anyone unhappy with Dallas’ play so far this year plenty to grumble about. In a game where, ideally, Dallas would be trotting out players 10-15 from the bench in the fourth, the Mavericks largely had to run it’s standard rotation through to the waning moments of play to ensure there was no daylight for New Orleans. Josh Green didn’t see his first playing time until just 45 seconds remained in the game. While it’s true this team hasn’t exactly resembled a well-oiled machine early this season, 7-3 is 7-3.
Bullock — next in line?
The starting lineup opening night was never likely to be one that was set in stone all season. With coach Jason Kidd playing with the pieces he has at his disposal, as well as playing around injuries to Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber, there’s been plenty of minutes to move around early this season. One player who’s taken advantage is Jalen Brunson. Starting on the bench, he quickly and undeniably made his case for starting minutes.
Another player who might be pushing for time in that starting five is offseason acquisition Reggie Bullock. Bullock has been solid when he’s played, and after two 15 minute outings early prompted a quippy response from coach Kidd about his playing time…
I asked Coach Kidd about Reggie Bullock only playing 15 & 17 minutes in the first two games and he answered that it was still early in the season and said...— Nick Angstadt (@NickVanExit) October 24, 2021
"I'm sorry you thought he should play more."
…Bullock’s time has indeed been creeping upward. He played well again tonight, scoring 12 on 5-of-7 shooting, but the case for his starting role is as much about his solid play as it is Dorian Finney-Smith’s regression. Both players offer solid on-ball defense, and while Finney-Smith works to shoot himself out of an early season shooting slump (he’s just 27% from three to open the year after shooting just under 40% in 2019-20), Bullock is a solid 35% shooter who could benefit from more floor time with Luka Doncic feeding him looks.
Close down the arc
New Orleans isn’t necessarily a team that’s going to shoot you out of the building from deep. They have the eighth-worst three point percent in the league and attempt a middling 35 per game.
That said, part of why the Pelicans were able to hang around and stay pesky for so long was decent shooting through three quarters, going 8-of-27. Dallas was able to finally pull away in the fourth in part because of scoring a game-high 30 of their own, but also by slamming the door on the Pelicans three point shooting, holding them to just 1-of-7 — all of which came from above the break, meaning no easy corner threes.
Two players who encouraged the late game slump were the aforementioned Bullock, but also the lengthy Frank Ntilikina. Frank was active tonight on both ends, as he has been much of this young season. An off and on shooter, he was on tonight, going 4-of-6 from the floor and a plus-24 rating off the bench, behind only Brunson’s huge plus-26. The combo of Frank and Bullock on the wings provides something approaching the energetic defensive front Dallas as long been searching for with names like Michael Kidd-Gilcrest, James Johnson and Wes Iwundu getting run.
With the win, Dallas opens the season at 7-3, which matches their best start to a season since the 2014-15 squad. That season was the last time Dallas broke the 50-win barrier. It was a different time when 50 wins was still only good enough for fourth in the division, and the team ran into the bandsaw of peak James Harden and the Rockets, but never mind all that. Dallas is still a team working to figure out what their identity is, but they’re doing it while winning games. A classic building the plane while flying, scenario. Just don’t look down.
Here’s our lastest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.