Wednesday was the first step in the restart of the 2019-20 season for the Dallas Mavericks after the NBA shut down on March 11 for the coronavirus.
With the league set to play eight regular season games and the entire playoffs under the bubble in Orlando starting July 30, there’s still many unanswered questions that the league may face down the road. However, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle looks at the glass as half-full and sees the restart of the season as an opportunity for his team to go deep into the playoffs.
“You can look at all the variables, all the procedural things, all the detail aspects of it, and look at it as a very daunting type of thing,” Carlisle said during a Wednesday conference call with over 40 members of the media. “Or you can look at it as really a one-of-a-kind, hopefully, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go into a completely unique environment with a completely unique kind of opportunity.
“This is certainly a new situation. Never before have we gone through something like this in the NBA. Some people may look at it with trepidation. I look at it with an excitement. This is really an amazing opportunity for us.”
When the games do tip off in Orlando, all of them will be played with no fans in the stands. What type of an effect that has on the quality of play remains to be seen?
“I don’t think it’s going to effect the intensity,” Carlisle said. “This eight-game set is such a short period of time, really — it’s going to happen over two weeks. All the teams involved are playing for something every single game.
“We’ve just come off of a three-month layoff where there’s been great anticipation about getting back on the floor. The quality of play in terms of the shot-making and those kinds of things, that may be a little challenging at the beginning.”
The players, though, may get a boost in regards to crowd noise being piped into the arena, according to Carlisle.
“As to how the environment is going to be without fans, my understanding is there is going to be sound, there’s going to be lights and things like that,” he said. “I’m curious. I’m looking ahead with great anticipation to see exactly how this thing is going to play out.”
However it plays out, the Mavs are going to be playing without center Dwight Powell (right Achilles tendon surgery), guard Jalen Brunson (right shoulder surgery) and guard Courtney Lee (left calf injury). They also will be playing without center Willie Cauley-Stein, who decided not to join the team in Orlando because he has a child about to be born.
The Mavs, who will play two or three exhibition games in Orlando prior to restarting the season, did sign guard Trey Burke on Wednesday as a substitute player for the remainder of this season.
“With Dwight out and Willie being unavailable, we’re going to be a little small, so we’re going to have to adjust that way,” Carlisle said. “But we don’t mind adjustments and challenges.
“In my 12 years here so far, a lot of it’s been about trying to take adversities and turn them into positives.”
Wednesday was the first day of individual one-on-one workouts for the Mavs. The Mavs will fly to Orlando on July 8, undergo more NBA-mandated tests when they get there, and Carlisle anticipates the first full practice session will be either July 10 or July 11. They will restart the season on July 31 against the Houston Rockets.
The NBA season was suspended indefinitely on March 11, right after the Mavs won a home game against the Denver Nuggets, 113-97. The Mavs are 40-27 and in seventh place in the Western Conference, but still with a chance to climb up to at least the No. 4 seed.
The Utah Jazz (41-23) are seeded fourth – just two-and-a-half games ahead of the Mavs. The Oklahoma City Thunder are fifth (40-24) and the Rockets (40-24) are sixth.
This will be the Mavs’ first playoff appearance since 2016, and they are obviously enthusiastic about being a participant in the postseason party.
“I believe our guys are really excited, chomping at the bit, tired of shooting at one basket to one coach,” Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson said. “We’re excited about getting on the plane and going down there (to Orlando) and hopefully making a nice run.”
Nelson, though, also knows of the importance of keeping everyone healthy and the integral role that plays in the Mavs’ quest to win the franchise’s second NBA title.
“I think there’s nothing more important than staying COVID (-19) free, as you guys know,” Nelson said. “I think the teams that stay the healthiest will probably have the best chance of going deep.”
That’s precisely the way Carlisle explained the situation.
“Everyone’s going to have challenges with this, whether they’re logistical challenges or challenges due to certain limitations,” Carlisle said. “For example, right now the workouts are still individual workouts, so we’ve got to think that very clearly as to when July 10 or 11 hits – whatever day is your first day of practice — what will those practices look like and how do you get into it.
“Do you jump into it hard, or do you ramp up a little bit? These are conversations that are wide-ranging. It’s me talking to our training staff and taking the temperature of those guys, and talking to our players and how they feel.”
And then there’s the notion that Florida is one of the hot spots of the coronavirus. That’s something that’s on everyone’s mind as the NBA restarts.
“In terms of the environment in Orlando, from everything that I understand it should be one of the safest places to be in the United States – even though the (COVID-19 positive test) numbers in Florida have spiked,” Carlisle said. “But the truth is the numbers all over the country have spiked.
“But this environment is going to be monitored very, very closely, and there are a lot of procedures and regulations, and we’re going to follow them to a tee, as are the other 21 teams. We’re looking forward to making the best of this.”
Carlisle added that there’s a silver lining to playing all the games in one city.
“Imagine an NBA season where you don’t have to travel,” he said. “Whoever heard of something like that? If you can’t look at that as some kind of positive, I think there’s something wrong.
“A week from today we leave (Dallas). When we get down (to Orlando) the training camp will go by quickly. You play eight games in two weeks. That’s going to fly by, and then boom, we’re going into the playoffs.”