Some 134 days will have passed since the Dallas Mavericks played their last game against the Denver Nuggets when they face the Los Angeles Lakers in a scrimmage on Thursday.
Rest assured, the Mavs (40-27) are very eager to get back on the basketball court, against anybody.
The NBA suspended play on March 11 due to the coronavirus after the Mavs defeated the Nuggets, 113-97, at American Airlines Center. After four months, the Mavs and 21 other teams convened in Orlando with hopes of restarting the season later this month and crowning an eventual NBA champion sometime in October.
The Mavs’ restart begins against the Lakers at 6 p.m. Thursday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in a scrimmage that will be televised on NBA TV. It will be the first time Mavs fans will have seen their favorite team since that stunning announcement by the NBA about putting the season on hiatus.
“We usually say this about the first exhibition game — it’s time to play somebody else,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Wednesday’s practice. “Our practices have been terrific.
“I’m assuming that most teams here have been having really great practices, too. We’ve all gone for so many months without being on the court together that I just feel like it sparked a real camaraderie with our team and I’m sure it’s hitting other teams like that as well.”
The Mavs will be shorthanded when they battle the Lakers. Center Dwight Powell (Achilles tendon surgery), and guards Jalen Brunson (shoulder surgery) and Courtney Lee (calf) will not be available. Neither will center Willie Cauley-Stein and guards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Trey Burke.
Cauley-Stein did not make the trip to Orlando due to the July 6 birth of his daughter. Kidd-Gilchrist just arrived in Orlando on Monday, and Burke didn’t arrive in Central Florida until Wednesday and still has to go through the quarantine protocol.
Following Thursday’s scrimmage against the Lakers, the Mavs will scrimmage the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at 3 p.m., and the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. No doubt, the Lakers, armed with superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, pose a formidable test for the Mavs.
“The Lakers are a great team,” Carlisle said. “They’ve got the second-best record in the league (at 49-14).
“We’ve got to deal with LeBron James, we’ve got to deal with Anthony Davis and we’ve got to deal with a big physical team and a lot of skills. We’ve got our hands full, but it’s time to see where we are.”
Carlisle acknowledged that no one should expect his players to play the amount of minutes they played before the season was halted, especially since this will be a 40-minute scrimmage instead of the normal 48-minute NBA game.
“In terms of the minutes, I don’t expect to play guys their full minutes,” Carlisle said. “I do want to get a chance to look at everybody who is available, so this is a good opportunity to do that.”
The Mavs started practicing under the bubble in Orlando on July 10. Guard Tim Hardaway believes now is the perfect time to gauge the temperature of this team.
“We’ve been waiting for it for some time now,” Hardaway said. “I know the guys are eager and ready to get going.
“I’m just ready to get back to playing the game that we love most. I’m excited, they’re excited. All hands on deck at this point.”
The fact it’s the Lakers the Mavs are playing gives this scrimmage an added bump or two.
“That’s the No. 1 team in our conference, so just playing against them we can definitely test to see where we’re at as a ball club right now and see what we can work on offensively and defensively,” Hardaway said. “So I’m happy, I’m excited and I’m happy to play against one of my former teammates, (J. R. Smith). I’m happy that he’s back in the league.”
Of course, no fans will be allowed in the stands at any of the scrimmages, or when the NBA season restarts on July 30. But Hardaway doesn’t see that as a hindrance.
“The only pictures I’ve seen of the arena is on social media, so I don’t really know how it will be without the fans,” he said. “But I do know that they will be watching at home.
“The atmosphere will be more so of an open gym feel when we’re in the summer — us ballplayers in the summertime hooping with our peers. I’m pretty sure us guys ought to be used to it.”
One aspect of his team’s game that Carlisle will be watching closely is the defensive end of the floor. That’s the part of the game that Hardaway said “you don’t need talent” to be successful at it.
“You just need hard work and dedication to that side of the floor,” Hardaway said. “When we’re out there on the floor guys got to make sure that they’re really locked in and keyed in on that end of the floor.
“We know we’re a great offensive team, but getting more stops, or a couple more stops here and there, can make all the difference in a close game. So we just learn from those mistakes that we made during the season, watch a lot of film on those and see where we can improve on that end of the floor.”
The Mavs flew to Orlando on July 8, and have since gone through 10 practice sessions. They’ll go through a shootaround on Thursday morning before finally getting a chance to play against someone else other than themselves.
“Everything that’s been going on with our team has been very upbeat, very positive,” Carlisle said. “We want to compete hard (against the Lakers), we want to play to win and we want to get a good run with the right number of minutes. That’ll be our goal tomorrow and we’re looking forward to it.”