Preseason basketball games are 100% biodegradable. It’s safe to flush them every time.
That’s especially true after the Mavericks’ lackluster performance that was punctuated by moments of promise in a 111-99 preseason-opening loss Thursday to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Abu Dhabi. The Wolves (1-0) were playing without star guard Anthony Edwards but still started the game on a 22-5 run en route to a 37-19 lead after one quarter. Edwards is reportedly dealing with an ankle issue at the moment.
But, of course, preseason games are more about vibes than they are about outcomes, and the good bits came later, after the Mavs (0-1) ended their 0-14 drought from 3-point land to start the game.
The play of second-team guard tandem Josh Green and Jaden Hardy was inspired at times. Luka Dončić shook off his own cold start and somehow ended up with 25 points in just 17 first-half minutes.
The team appeared to be intentional about getting to the bucket after their frigid shooting start and went to the free throw line 30 times in the preseason opener. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but we wouldn’t mind seeing the Mavs convert on more than 17 (56.7%) of those free throws in the future.
A mixed bag was kind of to be expected, especially in the first preseason game, and especially when it was happening more than 8,000 miles away from the American Airlines Center.
No matter. It’s time to flush the bad and catch another preseason vibe, because the Mavs have a rematch with the Timberwolves on Saturday at 11 a.m. The game will be televised on NBAtv and will stream on Mavs.com.
Here are two mild-to-moderate concerns to keep an eye on and two things to get pumped about heading into Saturday’s game.
Concern: Have we seen this movie before?
Will we start to see any progress in the definition of roles when Dončić and Kyrie Irving are on the floor together? In the limited minutes Dončić and Irving shared the floor on Thursday, it sure seemed like Irving was relegated to the “camping in the corner” role with Dončić dominating the ball at times, didn’t it?
The lack of offensive rhythm when the team’s two best players were on the court was palpable in most of the 20 games Dončić and Irving played together in 2022-23. Will we start to see any semblances of a plan? Or, did the Mavs just travel 8,000 miles to jack 3-pointers against guys wearing uniforms that look different than theirs for two games in a row?
Concern: The free-throw line
There are very few things on the court that will directly translate from preseason to regular season, but one thing that has remained a constant in recent years with the Mavs is their inefficiency at the free throw line. As noted above, the Mavericks made just 17 of their 30 free throw attempts in the preseason opener.
The Mavericks converted on 75.5% of their free throws in the 2022-23 season, good for just 23rd in the league. We’d love to see some progress there, but we’d also understand if that progress just doesn’t happen on this weird preseason trip to the desert.
Get Pumped: Second-Team dynamic duo
Hardy was the Mavs’ second leading scorer in the preseason opener, with 13 points off the bench. He looks like he’s improved as an on-the-ball defender and as a playmaker. His progression could be a key cog in whether the Mavs are fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the upcoming regular season or fighting for a top-4 or top-5 seed in the West.
He and Green, who scored six in 18 minutes, looked inspired in moments in the second half. Just about the entire MMB staff is on record at this point with the opinion that you’re going to thoroughly enjoy watching these two play this season.
Get Pumped: Dereck Lively II getting experience
Two games against Minnesota’s post tandem of Rudy Gobert and Karl Anthony-Towns is one hell of a baptism by fire for Dereck Lively II, the rookie center out of Duke whom the Mavs selected with the 12th pick in June. He’s going to continue get bodied by those two on Saturday, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s a good thing, as long as he remains healthy throughout the preseason.
Lively II started the game and played 15 minutes on Thursday. Keep an eye on his progression throughout the preseason, because if the Mavs feel like he’s up to speed and the team can depend on the rookie at the beginning of the regular season, that’s a win for Dallas.
Whatever happens Saturday, Mavs fans, keep your wits about you, and save your overreactions for our next episode of Pod Maverick.
How to Watch
The game will start at 11 am on NBAtv, Bally+ if you have that, or you can watch a stream at Mavs.com