With a look of pure joy on his face that you could see even with the mask on, Jason Kidd proudly made an announcement on Saturday.
“First practice of the year, 2022, the 22nd (of January),” he said.
Because of COVID-19, injuries, a busy stretch of games and whatever else fate has tossed at them, the Mavericks had not had a full-blown practice on a non-game day for the better part of a month.
They got that first long-overdue workout on Saturday. Everybody participated, except for Sterling Brown (left foot), who will miss Sunday evening’s meeting with Memphis (6:30 p.m. tipoff).
But Luka Dončić shook off any lingering problems from the neck injury he suffered on Thursday against Phoenix and went through the whole practice, along with everybody else.
“Today was a good day because finally we had everybody and we had a good practice,” Maxi Kleber said. “We haven’t had one in a long time. The competitiveness was really good.”
And businesslike, too. Kleber and Kidd both said that the Mavericks, after having won 11 of their last 13 games, are doing a good job of staying grounded while they have risen in the Western Conference standings. It’s not something that’s easy to do, but the time to celebrate definitely is not now.
“It’s still a long season,” Kleber said. “So there’s not really time to celebrate anything right now. We haven’t accomplished anything. We had a fairly slow start to the season so now we’re stringing some wins together. But we have so much stuff still to figure out.”
Kidd said this team isn’t the celebrating kind. Just like they weren’t the sort of group to get anxious about falling under .500 at 16-18 just a month ago. Winning 10 of their last 12 also must be dealt with in a professional manner.
“Talking about a storm or (when) things aren’t going well, this team has always had good character, good bounce-back,” he said. “There hasn’t been any panic when things weren’t going well for us early on offense or defense. We’ve stayed together and tried to work through some of the things we’ve had problems with.
“We’re winning games. That always helps the aches and pains. But I think this team has always been businesslike . . . no matter if we win 2 in a row or 10 in a row or lose two in a row, these guys have always come back the next day trying to get better.”
Curbing the turnovers: For long stretches this season, the Mavericks have been the best team in the NBA at holding onto the basketball.
But their turnovers per game have crept up to 12.6 after having 35 giveaways in the last two games, including 19 against Phoenix on Thursday.
Dončić had eight of them and Jalen Brunson had six.
“We’re not panicking about that,” Kidd said. “But when our backcourt has 14 turnovers, it’s going to be hard to win. Those guys know that.”
Kidd views this as an aberration. Since inserting Brunson into the backcourt starting lineup with Dončić, he’s gotten everything he could have hoped for out of that duo.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t address problems before they become habits.
At Saturday’s practice, they had a drill designed to emphasize holding onto the ball – by letting go of it.
“We had a couple drills of not dribbling,” Kidd said. “(We were) using the pass, not holding the ball, and it was good.”
Oddly enough, when the Mavericks have their best ball movement is when they also have some of their lowest turnover games.
Scouting Memphis: They had won 11 in a row before the Mavericks won at Memphis on Jan. 14. Since then, the Grizzlies are 2-2, but still are third in the Western Conference at 32-16.
“They’re one of, if not, the best team in the league,” Kidd said. “The last game (in Memphis) is in the past. They’re just as good as anybody in this league. They’re trying to find a way to win on the road.”
The Grizzlies are coming off a 122-118 win at Denver on Friday and are paced by Ja Morant (25.1 points per game).