During the Fox Sports Southwest postgame show after the Mavericks’ 121-118 loss to Portland on Sunday, former all-star Devin Harris compared Kristaps Porzingis to a Maverick from yesteryear.
Josh Howard was a much different player than Porzingis. But they do have one thing in common. Howard loved to come out firing in the first quarter.
He would shoot the jump ball if he could. As Harris said, Howard could run up 20 points in the first quarter. He might only finish with 22. But he was the guy who got the Mavericks going in the game’s early moments.
Jump ahead to the 13-15 Mavericks who are trying to generate some mojo after a subpar opening 20 games to start to the season.
We all have heard coach Rick Carlisle say that the NBA is as much a first-quarter league as it is a fourth-quarter league.
Which brings us to Porzingis, who has shown a flare for quick starts recently when the opportunity arises.
The Mavericks are 5-3 when Porzingis scores six points or more in the first quarter this season. When he scores 10 or more, they are 3-0.
It’s not a guarantee for victory. But the Mavericks do seem to take their cue early in games from Porzingis.
“I think we would love to get every one of our guys off at the start of games,” Carlisle said. “That’s something every guy on our team would love. Most nights, we run a play that directly involves (Porzingis).
“We’re well aware getting him into the game early is a good thing and an important thing.”
But it’s not always that easy. Opponents know that the Mavericks try to run early plays for Porzingis. So they tend to sit on those plays.
“Teams that are sticky defensive teams and that switch and do other things like that make it more difficult for him to get quality shots,” Carlisle said. “A lot of teams are going to great lengths to limit his good shots early in games and we’ve got to work to counter that.”
Much of it is dependent on the defense opponents are playing. Against New Orleans, the Pelicans played straight-up defense and Porzingis roamed free for numerous uncontested long-distance looks and responded with 15 first-quarter points.
Against Portland, Porzingis didn’t get left alone at all and didn’t get a shot in seven first-quarter minutes.
It was a stark reminder that, when defenses gang up on Porzingis, the Mavericks will have to find other early game options offensively.
Defensive agenda: The Mavericks surrendered 34 points in the first quarter Sunday against Portland, then gave up a whopping 45 in the third quarter.
That sabotaged their fourth quarter, in which they limited the Blazers to 18 points and 6-of-16 shooting.
“Defensively, we know we still got to be better,” said Tim Hardaway Jr. recently.
Added Carlisle: “I still feel like we can be a better defensive team. Defense is a mindset. No one has had much practice time. We’re hoping to have some coming up soon. And some of this is our mindset. It is more challenging in today’s NBA because you got some hyper-skilled guy coming in every night. If it’s not Damian Lillard, then it’s Steph Curry or Trae Young or Zion (Williamson) and those guys present real challenges to individual defenders and team defenders.
“I just feel we’re still early in the process and we got to stay with it. I don’t think we can give in to lowered expectations just because it’s been tough so far.”
Briefly: Speaking of practice time, the Mavericks are happy to have two days off between games twice in the next week. They took Monday as a rest day, but will have a full practice Tuesday before the seven-game home stand ends on Wednesday against Detroit . . . That game begins at 8 p.m.
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