If you’re paying close attention, you may have detected an uptick in playing time for a few Mavericks since the All-Star break.
Rest assured, Jason Kidd has noticed. After all, it’s his call on who plays and who doesn’t.
And he intends to do something to curb any possible over-usage.
In the first five outings since the All-Star break, Reggie Bullock has averaged 37.6 minutes per game. Luka Dončić has averaged 37.3 minutes. Dorian Finney-Smith has logged 34.4 minutes per game and Jalen Brunson 33.6.
All four of those heavy lifters were above their season averages in that span and in Bullock’s case, far above his norm.
Bullock had put in more than 40 minutes in each of the first two games on this home stand, which the Mavericks improved to 3-0 on Monday with a strong showing against Utah.
This is the time of the season that coaches often start tapering down their best players to get prepared for the playoffs. Golden State rested Steph Curry on Monday, for instance.
The Mavericks hope to dial down the minutes somewhat by utilizing other players moreso than resting stars for full games – at least for the moment.
“What is it, 18, 17 games left?” Kidd said. “It’s getting the rotations down. And we’d like to get more guys involved here, Sterling (Brown) and Trey (Burke).
“We’ve been running the minutes for those eight to nine guys that we have been playing. So we want to get everybody involved and get some of the minutes down for Luka and Reggie. We’re playing Reggie over 40 minutes a night. So those are the things I’m looking at.”
OK, things did not change much on Monday in the 111-103 win over Utah, partly because Kidd had to spread around 30 minutes usually taken by Brunson, who was out with a right foot contusion.
Even so, Bullock’s time was down (34 minutes) and Luka did not go beyond 37 minutes and change. Plus, Dončić’s rest period to start the second quarter lasted about a minute or two longer than usual as he played only 17 minutes in the first half.
Kidd said he’s looking at different combinations, too, with the arrival of Spencer Dinwiddie, who started for the second game in a row.
Kidd said he wants to get a better idea of who works best together “before April comes and we get ready for the next step.”
That would be the playoffs, of course. And with the Mavericks seemingly tracking to be either the fourth, fifth or sixth seed, having healthy, rested players probably outweighs all other concerns the rest of the way.
So between now and the playoffs, expect to see the workload eased somewhat on Kidd’s top players.
Sensible explanation: Kidd was asked before Monday’s game why, after calling a timeout Saturday with 12 seconds to play, he elected to keep the ball in the backcourt rather than advancing it to the front court, as he could have.
Without Dončić on the floor, Kidd wanted Brunson to take his time and not rush into the play, which might afford Sacramento a chance to get a shot after the Mavericks’ possession.
As it turned out, Brunson found Dorian Finney-Smith in the corner for the game winner with 3.8 seconds to play.
“To eat the clock,” Kidd said. “Brunson jogged into it a little too fast for my liking, but it worked out, because we wanted the last shot. And so, he drove into it a little early. I thought he was shooting it but he made a great play to Dorian. And Dorian did the hard part knocking down the shot.
“We wanted to maybe start it at seven or six with that type of pace so that they don’t get another shot at it. But our defense was able to hold.”
The Kings only got a long 3-pointer from Harrison Barnes on their last possession.
No Bulletin-board material: There’s nothing but good words flowing toward the Mavericks these days from other coaches.
It seems like every opposing coach that comes up against the Mavericks has the same respect for them, especially their improved defense this season.
Utah’s Quin Snyder was no exception.
“They’re really good, obviously,” Snyder said before Monday’s contest. “The way they’re playing right now, they’re as good as anybody in the NBA. You can point to what Luka does, and it’s special the way he scores, rebounds and play-makes.
“(Defensively) they’re a team that’s connected. There’s a focus and a pride they have on the ball defensively. And they’re an excellent team as far as helping. They shift really well. You’re not just attacking one guy. You’re attacking their team.”
And, Snyder said, the Mavericks have been immune to deep penetration in a way that is far different from the way Utah does it – with shot-blocker Rudy Gobert cleaning up any mistakes on the perimeter.
“They don’t have a rim protector the way we have in Rudy – they do it in different ways,” he said. “They protect the rim collectively. And then they’re also in rotations they’re really good at getting out to shooters. When you see that, you can see how well connected they are.”
Briefly: Brunson and Frank Ntilikina both missed Monday’s game, but Kidd said he had “no concerns” about either being a long-term injury situation. He said the hope is that Brunson will return on Wednesday to close out the home stand against New York . . . The Mavericks start a five-game road trip on Friday in Houston. The journey moves on to Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Charlotte.