As Rick Carlisle assessed the pros and cons of the new coach’s challenge rule that went decidedly con for the Mavericks on Sunday evening, he started a far more impactful discussion about his basketball team.
“That’s not the reason we lost the game,” Carlisle said Monday. “There certainly was a spotlight put on it. But there were a lot of things we could have done prior to that to put ourselves in a better position and that’s what we got to work toward.”
The good thing about the NBA is that there’s always another game coming down the road, usually in NASCAR fashion – fast and furious.
The Mavericks took a tough 121-119 loss to the Blazers on Sunday and, yes, it might have been different in the old days without a coach’s challenge flag.
But that was then. This is now. The Mavericks are in Denver to face the powerful Nuggets Tuesday night (8 p.m., Dallas time)and Carlisle has a lot more problems to deal with than dwell on the challenge that reversed a foul call in the waning seconds against Portland.
Instead, he has no choice but to look forward and worry about areas of improvement that are needed, like defense, 3-point shooting and ball movement.
“It’s only three games,” he said. “I believe we’re fifth in the league in offense and 19th in defense. So our defense has to get better. And if our defense gets better, our offense can improve even more.”
Oddly enough, coaches usually talk about their defense helping the offense by creating fast breaks and easy looks. This time, Carlisle said, it might be reversed.
“One of the things we can do is work to generate better offensive opportunities that give us better defensive balance,” he said. “And better flow back into our defense. There’s always an unmistakable connection between defense and offense, but also offense and defense. We just got to keep working to find the right balance.”
The Mavericks are, as Carlisle said, 19th in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to hit 45.7 percent from the field. They are 20th in points allowed at 112.7.
It makes sense that if they can improve their lousy 30.2 percent 3-point shooting (26th in the league), that would help their cause defensively.
One hand will wash the other.
The Mavericks have a slew of players who aren’t shooting the 3-ball well. And the fact that they have taken 47.9 percent of their overall shots from 3-point range is one reason why the defense is so taxed.
But they are keeping the faith, especially their proven shooters.
“We haven’t even shot it well to start the season,” said Seth Curry, who has shot it well at 5-of-11 so far from 3-point range. “Coach said it’s about shot selection. You don’t want to just shoot to shoot. You want to take shots you can make. And that’s when our percentage will go up, when we start taking better shots consistently.”
Despite the problems they’ve had, the Mavericks are 2-1 and while the trip to Denver will be a stiff challenge, they came out of the first week of the season feeling confident about the direction of the team.
“We competed against a playoff-caliber team (Portland) and played well,” Curry said. “But there are a lot of things we can do better. We got a lot of talent, a deep bench.”
As Carlisle said: “We got to make it a growth situation. It was a very volatile game, up and down. Too many peaks and valleys. That can happen with a group that’s young and hasn’t been together that long. We just got to get better tomorrow, simple as that.
“Portland and Denver back to back – we’re playing two teams that (met) in the Western Conference semis last year. They’re both teams that have gone through what we’re going through. They’ve both improved. And so, every night out there’s going to be a gauge of some sort. It’s never easy playing in Denver with the altitude. But we’re looking forward to the opportunity and it’s a chance for us to bounce back and play better.”
ABOUT THAT CHALLENGE
While it was time to move on, Carlisle did have a carefully worded response when asked about his second-day thoughts on the challenge by Portland coach Terry Stotts, which reversed a foul call on Damian Lillard with 9 seconds left and the Mavericks behind by a point.
Carlisle, like proprietor Mark Cuban who took to social media to question the transparency of the review video because fans at American Airlines Center couldn’t readily see it, said it might be a work in progress.
“I don’t think there was a P.A. announcement that got into the detailed explanation,” he said. “But anything that is implemented in our game has some room for improvement. There haven’t been a lot of challenges overturned this year. There have been a couple, but not a lot. They obviously felt that was one that was in that category.”
Interestingly, he said the challenge only pertains to the actual play in question, not to anything that happened before or after it.
“A tough thing about a situation like that is that the challenge only pertains to the attempted play on the ball,” he said. “It doesn’t cover what happened with contact when Finney-Smith got the rebound. For that to be taken into consideration, it has to be instantaneous. He got the rebound and then the whistle blew on the foul. The fact that he was hit across the head on the rebound was not part of the reviewable criteria. So some people would have a question about that. But they caught a break. And it obviously was tough for us.”
POWELL ON THE VERGE?
There wasn’t a lot of information about Dwight Powell and his recovery from a strained left hamstring that has sidelined him since early in training camp.
But it sounded like the 6-10 Powell, expected to be a major rotation player, and probably a starter alongside Kristaps Porzingis, might be close to making his 2019-20 debut.
“Powell went through a full practice,” Carlisle said Monday. “He’s doing better, he’s getting closer. That’s all I’ll say about it.”