Flexible to the end, Rick Carlisle is acquiring a ton of information about his team during the great COVID-19 inconvenience of 2021.
Players who have been isolated for the past 10 days or so have started trickling back to the team, beginning with Jalen Brunson against the Raptors on Monday. At some point, perhaps on this three-game trip, Josh Richardson, Dorian Finnney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell will follow.
But in their absence, Carlisle has mixed and matched players by necessity, and sometimes that’s the best way to gain intel on pairings and strategies that may be useful in the future. There’s nothing like meaningful game minutes to see what kind of talents young players have and how they respond in pressure situations.
“It’s been a good opportunity to see our young guys playing during quality stretches of minutes,” Carlisle said Monday before the Toronto game. “It’s challenging. It’s challenging for them to be thrown into it as quickly as they’ve gone from the virtual draft to training camp to game action. But they’ve done well.”
And it hasn’t all been about getting the rookies involved. With Kleber, Powell and Finney-Smith sidelined, plus the return of Kristaps Porzingis last week, it’s been a chance to see how playing a traditional big lineup can work for the Mavericks.
Porzingis has been in the lineup a lot with 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein. And it’s been enlightening for Carlisle and the Mavericks, given that they value defense above offense at this point.
“The Porzingis and Cauley-Stein pairing is a really good defensive pairing,” Carlisle said. “What we have to do is figure out some things with spacing on offense.
“But we’re a team that’s really making an effort to do better defensively, so those two guys in there defensively is great for us. I do like the pairing.”
Whether or not the duo is on the court when the cavalry returns remains to be seen.
But there is little doubt that rookies like Josh Green and Tyrell Terry have shown Carlisle enough to merit consideration as the season goes on.
With the coronavirus, there is not guarantees of a healthy roster at any juncture.
Green saw more than 15 minutes of action against Toronto, the fifth consecutive game he’s been on the court at least that long.
“They all go hard. They all are unselfish. They all have skill,” Carlisle said of the rookies. “It’s been good to see.
“When you’re young and you’re so enthusiastic about playing and so hyped up, so energetic, sometimes the game moves fast in your mind and these opportunities to play help our young guys understand the NBA is very high speed, but you’ve also got to be able to slow it down in your mind. And they’ve done a good job.”
In honor of MLK: The NBA had a busy schedule of games throughout the day on the MLK Day holiday.
The Mavericks, like everybody else, have been impacted by the events of the last year, starting with George Floyd’s murder, the Jacob Blake shooting and more.
“I’ve had such an education over the last nine or 10 months on racial injustice and the fight for social justice,” Carlisle said. “It’s been a daunting education. But it’s been so important for me and so many others.”
Brunson said it means a lot to be able to play on the day dedicated to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“A lot of triumph, a lot of sacrifice that Dr. King did for years,” said Brunson after his first game since Jan. 7. “It’s a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous honor and I don’t take it for granted at all.”
Carlisle said he took the opportunity on the holiday to listen to some of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches while getting prepared for the game against the Raptors.
“I was on a music streaming service I use,” he said. “They had a lot of his famous speeches and I was listening to them. It’s so inspirational to hear his words and hear the passion, to hear the commitment.
“On the one hand . . . the world has gotten to be a better place over the last 50 or 60 years, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be. His words and his actions will always resonate and they’ll always have a very resonant place in our history.
“It’s a privilege to play on MLK Day. It’s no accident that there’s a very full schedule of NBA games and we’re proud to be part of it.”
Briefly: Kristaps Porzingis played both ends of the back-to-back and with his second block against the Raptors, he reached 500 rejections for his career. He needed just 247 games to get to that milestone . . . The Mavericks stayed over in Tampa, Fla., and will use Tuesday for traveling to Indianapolis with the hope, as Carlisle said, of not throwing body clocks any further out of whack during a five-game, seven-day stretch . . . Tim Hardaway was 0-for-12 from the field with half of those misses coming from 3-point range. Hardaway had missed Sunday’s game with a groin muscle strain and did not appear to have the lift he usually has.
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