The eyes of DFW might be focused on Chase Field Monday night, but the Dallas Mavericks (2-0) will have their sights on division foe Memphis Grizzlies (0-3) on Bally Sports Southwest at 7:00 pm. They’ll hope to carry the momentum from their two season-opening wins against the San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets when they visit a Grizzlies squad missing key pieces and still looking for their first win.
Here is what we’ll be watching for from Monday’s matchup — while also admittedly keeping eyes on the Texas Rangers.
Lineup balancing act
Jason Kidd has hinted at matchup specific starting lineups since the preseason and that has (sort of) held true. The core of Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, Grant Williams, and Derrick Jones Jr. has remained. Maxi Kleber was opening night start and rookie Dereck Lively II got the nod against the Nets.
Jones has lacked any real impact in his 26 minutes over two contests, and it would seem it’s a matter of time before that spot is up for grabs. Kidd wants defensive versatility surrounding Doncic and Irving, but there are other options here. Lively, who was outstanding in his NBA debut against the Spurs, started against the Nets but played less — Kidd suggested Brooklyn’s move to go small impacted this and led to veteran stalwart Dwight Powell being called after not appearing in the opener.
None of this is really a surprise. Lively is undoubtedly the future, and while I prefer the team (and Kidd) to lean into this I understand allowing for some variance. So it will be interesting to see how much the rotations are tinkered with against a Grizzlies team missing both Ja Morant (suspension) and starting center Steven Adams (season ending surgery). I’d like to see what Lively does against the young starting tandem of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman Sr.
That in mind, it’s evident that while there was added emphasis on creating a new defensive identity with the players the team added in the offseason, forming that identity will take some time. In the opener the team allowed 43 points from the Spurs; a team that will be fun to watch, but shouldn’t threaten for much competitively. They bounced back last Wednesday rather quickly, outscoring the Spurs in each of the next three quarters and limiting them to an average of 25 points per frame.
Doncic mentioned in his postgame comments that they had no defensive effort in the first and turned that around for the win. There was some carry over into their home opener on Friday against Brooklyn, who scored 25 points in the first. But in the final three quarters the Nets shot an obscene 17-of-31 from three.
Memphis has started their season awful from deep, shooting 33-percent from three on 41 attempts per game. Starting guard Desmond Bane, who has shot nearly 42-percent from three against the Mavericks for his career, has been slow to get going in their three games. Without a doubt there is a new dynamic, missing Morant and putting Marcus Smart in his place. Bench shooter Luke Kennard may also be a game time decision after suffering a concussion last week. If the Grizzlies still struggle from deep it will be on the Mavericks to keep Tillman off the offensive glass.
Fixing a one man show
Since his rookie season the Mavericks front office have tried a wide range of roster moves to alleviate Luka Doncic from carrying the team to wins. Most of those moves haven’t been successful, and it’s caused many games to feel weighed down with that creating burden.
In the final five minutes of the opener Doncic scored six of the team’s final 14 points. He assisted on two of the other three baskets, and took two of the three missed attempts in that time. His hands were all over crunch time, but it saw Doncic creating for others (primarily Irving).
But against the Nets we saw superhuman Luka. The Mavericks found themselves down 109-108 with five minutes left and Doncic went on to score 14 of the team’s final 17 points, with four threes (!) including the iconic circus-hook-bank-fading-shot-clock-beating-three to clinch the game. This is not ideal. Doncic is made to have the ball in his hands in crunch time. And the team should be focused on keeping him fresh earlier in the game for that time. But the team also needs Irving and others to be a bigger presence late, otherwise Doncic will wear himself out by the middle of the season. While this may not be something specific to watch for in Monday night’s contest, this should be worth monitoring in all close games.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 7 PM CT and can be watched on Bally Sports.