Mavs at Pels Preview: Dallas' Next Enemy? 'Physicality'

Steven Kilpatrick

The Dallas Mavericks, in their last three outings, faced three teams in a row that took it to them physically. There will be something "physical,'' too, about the end-of-a-road-trip game on tonight at New Orleans. So how to "beat'' getting "beat up''?

In review of the trio of games - a home test against the powerful Clippers, a road game at the scrappy Suns and a visit to the Lakers - you argued that some of that physical play was outside the boundaries of the NBA rules, I wouldn’t immediately shun you. 

Let's review ...

LAC won, 114-99; the Clips do what they do with talent, too. But remember coach Rick Carlisle's summary of the evening?

"You have two wing players that are probably the most physical wing players – and the most athletic wing players – in the game," said Carlisle. "They are big, they are strong, and they are highly-skilled. Their centers are both very physical in different ways, and their guards play physical. They pick you up full-court and they hound you. This is a game we have to learn from and do better next time.”

Two days later it was Dallas vs. the Suns, and Aron Baynes flopped around the court all night in Phoenix, and even wound up piled on top of Tim Hardaway Jr. during a play he had no business getting involved in. The Mavs recorded a 120-113 win, but Kristaps Porzingis in particular probably came away with some bruised hips.

 “We showed great composure and we kept our aggression and we kept together,” Carlisle said. “The game got snippy, which is not surprising. We did a lot of good things. I’m real happy, obviously, with the win, but really proud of our guys for sticking together and finding a way.”

Then came the Sunday matinee at Staples Center. In the first quarter against the Lakers, LeBron James got away with some very handsy defense that led to a couple of steals ... but he also drew a charge when he wasn’t set, and drove his shoulder into an unprotected Luka Dončić for good measure.

The Mavs didn't bother talking too much in the postgame after LA because they registered what was in the end a 114-100 blowout win over the haughty Lakers. They were having too much fun to complain.

But, here's the lesson: that’s how it goes sometimes. And, if you believe this team is ready to make some playoff noise in Luka’s second year—that’s the sometimes we’re talking about. If the Mavericks aren’t prepared to weather a little blood and bruising vs. the NBA’s pet teams, they’re never going to survive a playoff series.

This week was a necessary lesson for a young team, and it’s already made them better. The Suns and Lakers both came out with a lot of brute force on the defensive end, and the Mavericks found ways to endure those assaults and play within that brutality. All of that culminated in their comeback-turned-blowout victory over the Lakers. They went from being flustered by physical play, to owning it. Meanwhile, the Lakers seemed flustered when the physicality stopped going their way.

Tonight is a different sort of test. Are the 6-14 Pelicans especially "physical''? Not really. (They won't have Derrick Favors or Zion Williamson, both of whom would've helped in that department.) Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram will key their attack.

But the Mavs will play after having flown cross-country toward home ... but it's Los Angeles to New Orleans. A bit of a weird travel slate demands "physicality'' of a sort. Dallas is a good road team; The Mavs, after winning nine roadies in each of the last two seasons, are already 7-2 this year. 

My guess is that as the Mavs as establish an ability to conquer most any enemy, they will soon learn to beat the foe of "physicality,'' too.


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