Despite win over Orlando, Mavs know starting five must be better as regular season approaches

DALLAS — Despite capturing a 99-96 victory Monday night against Orlando to improve to 3-1 in preseason play, the Dallas Mavericks know they still have plenty of work to do before the regular-season opener at home against Atlanta on Oct. 18.

Playing the first game without combo guard Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia), Mavs coach Rick Carlisle utilized a starting lineup of rookie Dennis Smith Jr., second-year guard Yogi Ferrell, swingman Wesley Matthews, leading scorer Harrison Barnes and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. The team then got off to a sluggish start against the shorthanded Orlando squad before rallying to take a 30-26 lead into the second quarter behind the play of the Dallas reserves. All told, the Mavericks outshot the Magic for the game, 43.8 percent to 41.4 percent. The Mavs also ended the night with a 48-44 rebounding edge, converting the Magic’s 18 turnovers into 15 points. But with Nowitzki the only starter that finish with a positive plus-minus, Carlisle admits that more will be asked of the first unit going forward.

“Well, if you look at our plus-minus, most of our starters were minuses. And it’s not Yogi’s fault, but that unit didn’t play particularly great,” Carlisle explained. “Some of those guys did some good things. I thought our second unit played better. And the numbers, I think, will bear that out.”

Behind Nowitzki’s eight points on 3-of-4 shooting and 2 for 2 from three-point range in the opening quarter, the Mavericks connected on 12 of 22 from the field in the first 12 minutes of play. The Mavs also hit four of their eight three-point attempts in the period, holding an 11-7 rebounding edge to overcome fourth turnovers. However, the production picked up when the second unit entered the game, according to Barnes. With that said, the Dallas starters know they will need to continue to jell during the final two exhibition outings.

“You know, a few shots didn’t go early, but I felt like we battled and we competed,” Barnes confessed after scoring 14 points during Monday‚Äôs victory. “I was proud of the rest of the guys. Our second unit and third unit went out and finished the game for us.

“I mean, we’ve just got to get the reps,” he added. “You know, it’s different out there not having Seth, but I think Yogi is obviously very talented and he’s proven himself. We just have to continue to find a flow and rhythm that works for us.”

This season, the Mavericks will attempt to make life easy on the 19-year-old Smith, who filled up the stat sheet Monday night with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists to lead the way to the win. Meanwhile, the Mavericks know they will likely be at a size disadvantage most nights by playing two point guards in the first unit and Nowitzki at the center position. And according to Nowitzki, the Mavs will have to rely on their veteran presence to overcome the first unit’s liabilities.

“We’re going to start the game, if that’s the starting lineup going into the season, we’re going to be undersized most nights. Most teams don’t really go really small off the bat. Usually they start two bigs, so we’re going to be undersized most nights when we go out there,” Nowitzki admitted after finishing with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 20 minutes of action Monday night. “You know, since I’m not the greatest rebounder, we’ve got to have all five guys in there battling and boxing out. That’s a big emphasis so far in training camp, pursing the ball, ’cause there’s been too many offensive rebounds the last few years here and there that cost you big games. So, we want to have five guys in there battling. And obviously Dennis, with his explosiveness, he can come in there with a running start, jump over a lot of backs and get some big rebounds for us.

“I mean, we’ve played some minutes together. Actually, every practice we kind of stick together and have been playing together, but still we can get better, work on some things and get the plays more natural. We’ve got some veterans in that group that have been together, and we’ve got to help out when things go a little haywire sometimes. It’s going to happen.”

Note: The Mavericks will now travel to Atlanta for Thursday’s matchup against the Hawks. The game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest Plus and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.

The Mavs return to American Airlines Center on Oct. 18 for the regular-season opener against the Atlanta Hawks. That game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out