This is the time of the NBA season when it seems like there are a million things to do and not enough hours in the day to scratch anything off the to-do list.
Rick Carlisle can probably relate.
After two preseason losses and one winning start to a new era, the Mavericks have plenty of work ahead of them. They have three exhibitions and less than two weeks left to ready themselves for the regular season opener Oct. 23 against Washington.
The loose ends are everywhere for Carlisle as he looks to narrow down what figures to be a very competitive and crowded playing rotation, adjust to however healthy Dwight Powell and J.J. Barea will be and many other things. The clues will continue to unravel Friday when the preseason continues against Milwaukee.
So after 10 days of training camp, the two road losses to open the preseason and the welcomed sight of seeing Kristaps Porzingis finally on the court with Luka Doncic on Wednesday at Detroit, here’s a look at the burning for the rest of the preseason.
IRON OUT THE STARS’ PLAYING TIME
In a perfect world, Porzingis and Doncic would be on the court together all the time.
No chance of that happening.
But the challenge for Carlisle will be to find a balance where the two young stars can play together early and often to foster chemistry between them, but also keep at least one of them on the court as much as possible.
“Ideally, we’d love to have one of those guys on the floor all the time,” Carlisle said. “It won’t always be possible. But the hope is that we can work that out as much as possible. A lot of it will depend on how we sub and what matchups are, things like that. But this is a beginning.”
“This” was the unveiling on Wednesday in Detroit. The pair combined for 39 points and were finished by the end of the third quarter. Doncic played 28 minutes, but Porzingis only played 19.
How the Mavericks handle themselves when one or both of their anchors are on the sideline is going to be crucial for success this season. In this age of load management, even young players are getting more rest to ensure their best chance at good health and a full tank of gas later in the season.
Doncic and Porzingis will be the heavy lifters. But they’ll need help along the way.
HOW DO THE SWINGMAN POSITIONS BREAK DOWN?
On Wednesday in Detroit, Carlisle started Justin Jackson and then substituted Tim Hardaway Jr. into the game. Hardaway and Jackson shuttled in and out for each other through virtually the entire game.
Hardaway will have a unique role on this team because he can be effective as a starter or a sixth man. And as Jason Terry, Vince Carter and others have shown, the sixth man in Rick Carlisle’s system can be a major weapon.
“I really loved how Tim played offensively,” Carlisle said of the Detroit game, when Hardaway had 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench. “He was aggressive. He was smart and he used the space on the floor. He mixed in drives. His shot-making in the second quarter was one of the reasons we had a lead at halftime.”
Hardaway looks to be fully healthy after offseason leg surgery. That’s a huge plus for him and the Mavericks. Finding a comfortable role for him should help maximize things at the offensive end.
WHAT ABOUT DWIGHT POWELL?
He missed the first two preseason games with a strained left hamstring.
Powell potentially could be the starter on the front line alongside Porzingis. Maxi Kleber and, in smaller lineups, Dorian Finney-Smith could be options, too.
But the way Powell finished last season, starting most of the time and averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds after the All-Star break (and a healthy 30 minutes per game), Powell appears to be ready to be the energetic dirty-work player that would pair well with Porzingis.
But he can’t do it if he’s not healthy and hamstring injuries can be finicky. The Mavericks will err on the side of caution with Powell, but at some point, he will be one of the key big men in the rotation.
UMM, ABOUT THAT REBOUNDING
The Mavericks were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last year after trading DeAndre Jordan. So far, they have been outrebounded by 16 in two games.
That won’t cut it.
Carlisle has used the term “gang rebounding” a couple of times during camp and it’s clear that’s what the Mavericks are going to need. They don’t appear to have the personnel to designate one player to be the rim runner whose job it is to rake off boards.
They’ll need Powell, Porzingis, Doncic, Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and guards like Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Delon Wright to pick off their share of rebounds if they hope to secure enough possessions to give the potent offense a fighting chance.
KEEP EMPHASIZING THE GOOD
So far, the Mavericks have had only 27 turnovers in two preseason games.
That’s a very low number considering the way 18 players have gone through the revolving door at the scorer’s table so far.
If you have trouble rebounding, you’re going to have to take care of the basketball. The Mavericks have done that and their shooting perked up in the second game when Porzingis and Doncic debuted.
BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE
Free throws were outstanding in the second preseason game for all but one Maverick.
Luka Doncic was just 5-of-10 from the stripe. Everybody else was 25-of-28.
We’ll chalk this up to a little rust after six months without playing a game and maybe a lack of attention to details as the team works on big-picture stuff.
But Doncic was a very pedestrian 71.3-percent free-throw shooter as a rookie. That must improve. The 20-year-old reigning rookie of the year always has fun on the court and usually is smiling.
But at the free throw line, it’s going to have to be serious business at some point.