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Mavericks vs. Magic preview: 3 things that will impact the second game of Mavs’ first back-to-back

What will the lineups look like Monday evening after a comeback win at home that was harder fought than it should have been?

Charlotte Hornets v Dallas Mavericks
Tim Hardaway Jr. #10, Kyrie Irving #11, Grant Williams #3, and Dwight Powell (back) #7 of the Dallas Mavericks huddle during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Center on November 05, 2023 in Dallas, Texas.
Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Sure. The schedule to start the 2023-24 season has been a little Mavs-friendly. And sure, the one time the Mavericks (5-1) have been tested by an elite NBA team, they came up short in Denver.

And sure, even in the first five wins of the season, Dallas is leaving fans with more questions than answers as lineups shuffle, role players and rookies impress and Luka Dončić takes a couple of games off from going beast mode.

But the early returns have been positive on paper if not quite as pretty on film the day after. After exorcising some Charlotte Hornets-related demons 124-118 Sunday, the Mavs are showing more depth than last season, and that will be put to the test against the Orlando Magic (4-2) at the Amway Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.

Magic fans have to come into the matchup thinking along the same lines as Mavs fans through six games this season. They’re occupying a similar in-between stage, perhaps a year away from being a contender, where folks aren’t quite sure what we have here, but it could be good.

The Charlotte Hornets, who led the game against the Mavs for more than three quarters before Dallas came back and won, aren’t supposed to be a team that gives you fits. The Orlando Magic, who are coming off a 120-101 win against the Lakers on Saturday, are. So it will be interesting to see if the Mavs can handle a spunky, young team that is not on the second night of a back-to-back, in their building, early in the season.

Rest/minutes played

The word “rest” has been thrown around alarmingly often for an NBA season this young. Even in the first six games of the year, the Mavs coaching staff has shaved Dončić’s first-quarter minutes to preserve his legs over the long 82-game season. He does tend to get beaten up a bit.

Is it too soon for a star to be given the night off on the second night of a back-to-back? Many fans might say yes, but those whose job it is to orchestrate wins down the stretch have jobs to protect, too.

Just for a snapshot, Luka is averaging 37.5 minutes per game through the first six, right in line with his 36.2 minutes per game last year. Kyrie Irving, who has played the last two games after missing the previous two with a sprained foot, is averaging right at 35 minutes per game in the four that he has played.

Irving’s trendline

It might take some time for Irving to round into regular-season form after a groin injury in the preseason and the more recent foot issue. In his four games early on, Irving is averaging 19.8 points per game on 44 percent shooting, but just 21.7 percent from three.

Orlando’s rookie point guard Anthony Black got his first career start in the Magic’s win over the Lakers. It will be interesting to see if he draws the assignment to guard Irving for stretches, and if so, if Kyrie is more assertive about getting his shot when and if that happens.

Role players stepping up

In the season-opener, it was Dereck Lively II. Then it was Grant Williams. What was nice to see on Sunday was that seven Mavericks scored in double figures against the Hornets. Although it wasn’t pretty for three quarters, there were moments late when everyone was clicking and contributing, especially Lively and Jaden Hardy.

Hardy scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, consistently getting to the free-throw line and making plays as the Mavericks wrestled control of the game away from the Hornets.

What’s most impressive about Hardy in particular is that he is impressing in limited minutes that don’t come on a regular schedule. He’s staying ready and bringing the juice whenever his number is called. Lively, for his part, filled the stat sheet as well Sunday with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 14 rebounds.

The other side of the coin is that Orlando feels like they have a bunch of good young role players giving them good minutes, too. Though they rely on frontcourt mates Paolo Banchero (17.5 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) and Franz Wagner (19.8 points, 5.7 rebounds), Magic fans are just as pumped about Black, their rookie point guard who was drafted No. 6 overall, as Mavs fans are about Lively.

It will be interesting to see on Monday whose depth runs deeper, Dallas’ or Orlando’s. Or, heck, maybe Dončić will render all that moot with another one of his patented magic moments.

How to watch

This one starts early on Bally Sports Southwest at 6 pm CST.