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4 questions for the Mavericks as they return from their extended break

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Dallas unexpectedly got a lot of time off last week, so let’s reset and ponder about what we’re interested to see.

Portland Trail Blazers v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

For some truly awful and terrible reasons, the Mavericks game Monday night against the Grizzlies will be their first game in eight days. That’s a very long time! That’s basically an All-Star break. Heck, it’s longer!

Since that’s such a long time off, it makes sense if you haven’t thought much about the Mavericks lately. I can say personally I sure didn’t as I dealt with my house having no power for over 72 hours. Now that some things are starting to return to normal (and we hope anyone reading from Texas is doing OK), let’s reset a little bit and ask some important questions about this Mavericks team trying to climb back over .500 and solidify a playoff spot to get the season back on track.

How do the players that tested positive for COVID-19 look?

Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell all tested positive during a COVID outbreak within the Mavericks a month ago. We saw what can happen when up to five rotation players and starters miss extended time — the team looks bad. Very bad, one would say.

Dallas went through a six-game losing streak without most of those guys and as we know about the virus, it’s not something anyone can just hop back into the rigors of a professional basketball game and be 100 percent. We’ve seen various struggles from all of these guys, mostly on the defensive end. For three of them (Richardson, Finney-Smith and Kleber), defense is their calling card. Yet, since those players have returned and gotten some games under their belt, the Mavericks have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league since Feb. 3.

A little over a week off could be just the thing for those guys, especially since the Mavericks have used the break to get in some practice time as well. The truth is, we don’t really know what’s going to happen. Researchers and medical professionals are still figuring out long-term effects of the virus and with millionaire athletes in top condition, they’re obviously going to battle it differently than us regular people. Still, we just don’t really know. It was obvious though that those Mavericks have been laboring at times, perhaps highlighted the most by this moment in the loss to the Trail Blazers when 36-year-old Carmelo Anthony roasted Kleber, probably the player the Mavericks lean the most on for defense.

Thankfully Finney-Smith and Kleber have found their shooting strokes since returning, although the same can’t be said for Richardson. When those three are right, there’s no reason for the Mavericks to have the laughably bad defense they are currently sporting.

The not-so-fun part of this discussion is something that has to be said: this could just be a lost season because of COVID. Maybe these guys can never find the extra gear for the rest of this season, we just don’t know with this virus. Hopefully the time off has helped, but that scenario has to be acknowledged.

Will Kristaps Porzingis start moving better?

Forget all the things written and said about Kristaps Porzingis this season. You’ve surely read and listened a lot on our site alone. Forget the numbers, forget the box scores, and personally I want to just see one thing as the Mavericks return to action: is Porizngis moving better?

This is probably more of a subjective question, because the definition of “moving better” is different for everyone. For me, I just want to see if the time off has given Porzingis more pep in his step, a bit more zip on both offense and defense.

That’s the thing that’s terrified me the most watching him this season. Watching Porzingis, it looks like he’s moving in quicksand, which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising of a guy recovering from a meniscus surgery. If my memory serves me right, there were similar things being said about Chandler Parsons when he came back from off-season knee surgery. Point is, these things take some time.

With eight days off, hopefully that does something. I don’t expect Porzingis to suddenly look like Superman, but if the slow-footed, stuck-in-quicksand Porzingis returns after the long lay off, that will be awfully concerning for the Mavericks.

Can Jalen Brunson keep it up?

There should probably be more said about Jalen Brunson. The third year guard as taken a mini-leap this season, averaging career high 24.1 minutes and 11.7 points per game. He’s shooting 51.5 percent from the floor, 38.2 percent from three and 88.9 percent from the free throw line.

He’s been crucial in keeping the Mavericks season from being more disappointing than it currently is. What’s been great has been his ability to contribute both next to Luka Doncic and without him. I’ve always thought of Brunson being at his best next to Doncic, so he has a bit more space to work with after Doncic disrupts a defense with his first action. So far this season I’ve been proven wrong, with Brunson doing some damage leading bench units as well.

Back to my point though, Brunson and Doncic have shared the floor together for 281 minutes so far this season, according to NBA.com. The Mavericks have outscored teams by 31 points in those minutes, while shooting 47.5 percent from the field. I wrote last week about how this could translate to more success for the Mavericks clutch offense, which is doing much better this season compared to last. However Brunson has only played 17 clutch minutes this season, eighth most on the team (the Mavericks have been outscored by six points in those 17 minutes). I suspect Brunson’s size makes it tricky for Rick Carlisle to ride him late in games, but it’s not like the Mavericks defense has been doing much anyway. I wonder if when the Mavericks resume play, if Brunson gets more opportunities to close games.

Who are these Dallas Mavericks?

This is a rather large and philosophical question to be asking, but it’s nearing time we finally figure out who these Mavericks are — if they’re the contender we thought before the season, the disappointing team we’ve watched most of this season or something in the middle.

Near the end of January, I wrote about how due to Porzingis’ recovery and the COVID outbreak, we didn’t know who the Mavericks were. As time as gone by and the Mavericks have played more and more games with their full roster of players, we’re starting to gather more data to potentially answer that question. As Mavs.com’s Bobby Karalla noted on Sunday, the practice time the current Mavericks starting lineup got during last week was the most it has had all season. Simply put: it’s time.

The Mavericks got more rest last week than teams will get during the upcoming All-Star break. Dallas has had its COVID players back for a few weeks now. Porzingis and Doncic have gotten the amount of healthy rest that other stars dream of during a season. Dallas is basically going to get two All-Star breaks this season.

So it’s time. The Mavericks are healthy (we assume), they’re well-rested and they’ve gotten about four to five practices in a row under their belts to hopefully help clean up some of the defensive mistakes we’ve seen this month. The schedule coming back isn’t easy, as the Mavericks play a lot of solid to elite teams to close out the first half, but now is the time for the Mavericks to look like the team most of us thought they would be. When the Mavericks started sputtering in January, my take was if they got back to .500 by the end of February, they’d be in good shape to reclaim the season. They’re 13-15 right now. The plan is still in place! Let us see who these Mavericks truly are.