Fans look at the Mavericks and see a team on pace to win 45 games.
Jason Kidd looks at the Mavericks and sees a maze he must navigate. And around every corner, there’s another surprise requiring him to alter course.
After one-quarter of the NBA season, there have been more than a few unexpected twists, mostly with injuries and shooting doldrums. But the most recent one – losing five of six games – was one that Kidd wanted to use as a yardstick for his team.
How would they react?
The first answers rolled in on Wednesday in New Orleans when the Mavericks dismantled the Pelicans 139-107. It was a get-mad-and-get-moving win against a team that admittedly was ripe for the picking.
But it was a win that showed Kidd something that he hopes his team can sustain. And it has nothing to do with X’s and O’s.
“It all starts with the spirit,” Kidd said. “That’s what I really wanted to see – how we’re going to stay together (when things get difficult)? And I thought the guys did a great job.
“When you saw the guys standing (in the bench area) from the tip to the end of the game, it sent a message that we were into the game. And we talked about that as a team. When things don’t go well, we tend to go silent. And that’s where we have to get better. We have to cheer for one another. And for 48 minutes, guys that weren’t playing were into the game and guys that were playing could feel that and hear it.”
This is not a kumbaya moment. This is trying to stress to players still getting used to a new set of coaches and new routines that their abilities are needed, whether on the court or in practice or on the bench observing the game, supporting teammates and offering help vocally and strategically.
It’s an ongoing process, but Wednesday was an important step. It pushed the Mavericks to the one-quarter mark of the season with an 11-9 record.
The Mavericks were 8-12 last season after 20 games. They were 14-6 in the pandemic season.
None of which matters now. They lost in the first round of the playoffs each time to the Los Angeles Clippers and that’s what Kidd is trying to change for the better.
Clearly, it’s still too early to draw any conclusions, but the good news is that you’d rather be on the top side of .500 after 20 games than fighting from behind.
They have had problems with shooting at times, but when they break out of a slump, they don’t mess around, as Wednesday showed. A franchise record 68.7 percent shooting night was enough to restore any lost confidence.
As Tim Hardaway Jr. said nothing changed, other than the ball dropping through the net. Of course, in a make-or-miss league, that makes all the difference.
And it is Hardaway’s opinion that the Mavericks are learning on the fly, and it’s more fun to learn when you win than when you have to endure five losses in six games.
But sometimes, you need the hard times.
“With the ball moving like it was, and the result of the shot going in, it helps a little,” Hardaway said. “We are human. But at the same time, whether it was a make or miss today, people felt good and got back on defense and committed themselves to getting stops and doing their part.”
It was Hardaway who started Wednesday’s game on the bench while Reggie Bullock was inserted into the starting lineup. But Kidd emphasized the lineup will continue to be fluid. Apart from Luka Dončić, Kristaps Porzingis and Dorian Finney-Smith, the other two spots could be like your musical mix tape on shuffle.
You never know what you’re going to get.
Briefly: The Mavericks got back from New Orleans around midnight on Wednesday night and had no formal workout Thursday . . . On the injury front, Frank Ntilikina (right calf) and Willie Cauley-Stein (personal matter) will have their statuses updated on Friday before the rematch against New Orleans . . . The Mavericks have a rare set of back-to-back home games with Memphis coming in on Saturday after the Pelicans. The Grizzlies already will be in Dallas on Friday after playing at home against Oklahoma City on Thursday.