The Dallas Mavericks start the 2022-23 season on the road against the Phoenix Suns Wednesday evening. After nearly four months away from regular season NBA basketball, we get to see a primetime rematch of two Western Conference Semifinalists as they match up for the first time since May, when Dallas dispatched the Suns on the road in a seven game series.
While the Mavericks did trade for Christian Wood and lose Jalen Brunson in free agency, it’s been a pretty uneventful off-season for Dallas. Luka Doncic comes into the season in shape for the first time since the 2019-20 season and, after an early exit in Eurobasket, is hopefully ready to get back out on the court and play meaningful basketball.
After a trip to the Western Conference Finals, it will be interesting to see what sort of urgency the Mavericks play with. Slow starts have plagued the past two seasons, though Dallas rebounded well in the second half of each campaign. Here are some things to think about prior to this specific game.
Picking up where the Mavericks left off
The last time the Mavericks played the Suns, it was on this very same court on May 15th where the Mavericks simply annihilated the Suns. Luka Doncic outscored Phoenix in the first half by himself. That loss sent towards a difficult off season, where they’ve had to work through issues with unhappy players in DeAndre Ayton and Jae Crowder and their owner was pressured into selling the team following an investigation into his conduct. The pre-season vibes have been poor as well, between the awkward media availabilities and the loss to the Adelaide 36ers (an Australian professional team).
Dallas takes the floor tonight with an early chance to take a win from a conference rival. The bad feelings from a loss the one the Mavericks handed the Suns lingers and when Devin Booker is saying things like “Whether we win by 30 or lose by 30, we still have 81 to go after that,” there’s a chance there for Dallas to run the Suns right off the floor. Again.
The Dallas Mavericks finished the 2021-22 season as the 7th ranked team in terms of defensive rating, according to NBA.com’s data. Preseason is hardly a time to judge defense, but it’s what we have and it’s safe to assume that the Dallas defense will be a work in progress. Things didn’t click for Dallas until the turnover into 2022 and if they look a bit rough against a well-oiled Suns team, that shouldn’t cause too much concern. Fitting in different pieces, like JaVale McGee, takes time. Acclimating players like Tim Hardaway Jr. may take time as well. The bench unit in particular might have a rough go of things on defense, but that unit should also be able to pour in points. Keep an eye open for if and when the Mavericks use zone as well.
The start of the Luka Doncic MVP campaign
It’s a mild bit of redundancy from the first point, but it’s worth repeating. If he’s interested in winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, Luka Doncic must bring his best performance every night. While he’s won All-NBA honors for three years running, voters are very interested in how a player closes a season, whereas MVP awards tend to go to the best body of work.
To quote Matthew Phillips from his 41 Facts article, “In his final 44 games after coming back from an ankle injury, and getting into shape, Luka Doncic averaged 29.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game on 46.1 percent from the field, 36.5 percent from three and 75.9 percent from the free throw line.”
If Doncic posted these numbers for 70 or more games while leading Dallas to a top four in the West finish, it would be hard to NOT give him the award. The path towards that begins tonight against a Suns team he seems to relish beating.
How to watch
You can watch the broadcast on ESPN at 9 p.m. CST.
You can listen to our latest podcast episode in the player embedded below, and to make sure you don’t miss a single one moving forward, subscribe to the Mavs Moneyball podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Pocketcasts, or Castbox.
You can check our our After Dark Recap podcasts, Spotify Live recordings, Moneyball Minute shows, and guest shows on the Mavs Moneyball Podcast feed. Please subscribe, rate, and review.