The daily COVID-19 testing for NBA teams has been a pain.
But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been beneficial at times.
Take Wednesday, for instance, when Rick Carlisle went into the testing area and bumped into Tim Hardaway Jr.
It afforded Carlisle a chance to chat with his swingman about a delicate subject, one that has the interest of the Mavericks, their fans and media alike.
Should Hardaway remain in the Mavericks’ starting lineup?
Allow Carlisle to explain what happened at the testing area leading up to Wednesday’s game against New Orleans. Kristaps Porzingis was returning to the lineup and everybody knew that a lineup tweak was coming.
But what would that change be?
“I had not made the decision yet (about the lineup),” Carlisle said. “But I knew that we were probably going to be playing big with KP, and I asked Tim: ‘Look, we’re back in a situation where there’s going to be a lineup change here. I want to know how you feel about coming off the bench again.’
“He said: ‘Hey, look Coach, I’d rather start. I think most players would rather start but if it’s best for the team for me to come off the bench, let’s go. I’m willing to do it.’
“I thought about it, talked to the staff and decided this was a lineup we needed to look at.”
That lineup ended up having Hardaway in the backcourt with Luka Dončić. Porzingis, Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith were on the front line, meaning Josh Richardson and Maxi Kleber were the two players who have started a lot of games this season who came off the bench.
All Hardaway did was score 27 points against the Pelicans. It extended a huge scoring run he’s had in the past two weeks.
Perhaps some Maverick fans don’t realize how lucky they are to have Hardaway on their side. Rest assured, Carlisle knows.
This is a situation where the late, great Chuck Daly’s advice would be valuable to everybody. Daly once said that every NBA player wants the same thing: 48 minutes, 48 shots and $48 million.
That still applies today, decades after Daly uttered that famous line. And rest assured, Hardaway would prefer to start.
Most players do.
“It’s rare to find a player that truly embraces the challenge of coming off the bench,” Carlisle said. “We were so fortunate here to have two great ones with Jason Terry and Vince Carter — I mean really two all-time great Mavericks (who liked coming off the bench).
“Right now, for us, [Jalen] Brunson has been a guy that has really embraced it. He understands what it’s about.
“But starting, the game naturally flows so much better. You go right from warmups to the flow of the game. Most players are going to tell you that they’d rather start. It’s just an overwhelming majority would tell you that.”
And Hardaway has been in the lineup for a couple weeks now. At first, it was because of injuries. But when a player averages 24 points over the past 10 games (eight starts), he makes it virtually impossible for a coach to extract him from the lineup.
“With Tim, the proof is in a sample size of well over a year,” Carlisle said. “When he was starting last year, he had a great flow. He started early this year and we made the change to go to more of a defensive lineup and bring him off the bench because we were really struggling with defense.
“He was willing to do it. That’s one reason that I’m willing to make other changes in the lineup, when you have a guy like him who’s one of your top players willing to do it.”
All of that said, the lineup is going to remain fluid. Carlisle adjusts his starters based on matchups and who has a hot hand.
He also has been known to finish games with a different lineup than the one that starts.
“It’s one game,” Carlisle said of Wednesday’s lineup. “We’ll see where we are Friday but the message has been sent to the team that we’re going to need to be flexible with the lineup when necessary – especially with the kind of team we have and all the different kinds of ways we can go.”
Playoff watch: The Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers both had off days Thursday. The Mavericks are 41-29 and need any combination of one more win or Lakers’ loss to clinch the No. 6 playoff seed in the Western Conference.
The Lakers are 40-30 and the Mavericks have the tiebreaker. LA doesn’t play again until Saturday at Indiana.
So the Mavericks can win their way into No. 6 Friday against Toronto at American Airlines Center (8 p.m. tipoff).
In the race for No. 5, Portland (41-29, plus the tiebreaker vs. the Mavericks) plays Thursday at Phoenix. If the Blazers win their last two games, they will be No. 5 in the West. Any loss opens the door for the Mavericks to pass them if they can win their final two games.
The Mavericks final game of the season is Sunday at 8 p.m. at Minnesota.
If the Mavericks clinch at least the No. 6 spot, their first-round playoff opponent likely will be either Denver or the Los Angeles Clippers.