DALLAS - After losing four of their previous five games, the Dallas Mavericks opted to make a change to their starting lineup. Dwight Powell was inserted at the 5-spot for the team's Wednesday [win/loss] over the Detroit Pistons.
There was speculation regarding the possibility of the Mavericks making a change on the wing. Josh Richardson has struggled to convert from beyond the arc as of late, but remained in the first group alongside Dorian Finney-Smith, Luka Doncic, and Kristaps Porzingis. Instead, the change was Dwight Powell in place of Maxi Kleber.
Part of the motivation behind starting Powell is the energy he brought to the game during the second half of the Mavericks' 121-107 loss to the Sacramento Kings during the NBA's Monday slate. During that stretch, he posted a team-best +11 plus/minus.
"The other night against [the Kings] when we were really struggling, he came in and changed the game with hard and physical play," coach Rick Carlisle said. "There is some history he played with the majority of that group in the starting lineup last year with the exception of [Josh Richardson] who wasn't here. I just thought it was a change up that we needed."
In need of avoiding a three-game slide, the Mavericks opted to go with a player who can step in and provide energy to ideally ignite a spark in the group as a whole.
The results offensively were suitable and that doesn't come with much surprise. Luka Doncic has always had a synergistic two-man game with Powell - maximizing his athleticism as a lob threat. Defensively, there were still shortcomings due to different limitations.
Man-to-Man Limitations Alongside Porzingis
The Mavericks ended up getting outscored by the Pistons 36-33 in the first quarter of this game. A key contributing factor in that was Jerami Grant scoring 15 points while going 6-of-8 (75.0%) from the floor.
With the Pistons using a lineup that featured just one traditional big man, their offense was frequently able to create favorable matchups for Grant. This proved to be quite problematic for the Mavericks when trying to contain him out in space.
"The problem that I saw was that [Jerami Grant] got us on some crossmatches," Carlisle said. "He hit a couple of early shots. He got a couple of and-ones. That got them going and it got us against it a little bit. We kept our poise and kept battling in there."
Whether it was Dwight Powell being unable to get around an off-ball screen quickly enough, or Kristaps Porzingis having to sag off in mid-range to avoid a blow by, Grant was able to get what he wanted.
The Mavericks ultimately opted to switch to a 2-3 zone after Grant continued to get what he wanted against crossmatches. Even when Dallas adjusted their lineup to bring Willie Cauley-Stein into the game, he was caught being unable to slide his feet quickly enough and allowed an and-one on a floater.
Switch to 2-3 Zone
With the starting unit beginning of the second half together, Dallas initially guarded the Pistons in man-to-man. However, not being able to slow down Grant on a high pick-and-roll and then fouling him out on space on back-to-back possessions prompted a change in approach.
Reverting back to a 2-3 zone look, the Mavericks began to emphasize closing off the paint. Aside from one breakdown that resulted in a wide open attempt for Josh Jackson in the corner, this unit was in position to contest on the other pair of attempts.
Working the ball in the middle of the floor didn't result in positive outcomes for the Pistons against this unit either. There was a miscommunication on the initial possession by Doncic and Porzingis that left the unit vulnerable to a flash cut by Saddiq Bey, but he didn't convert. Mason Plumlee then tried to engage Porzingis on an isolation and it ended in a turnover.
The Pistons are a favorable team to break out a 2-3 zone against and to identify potential miscommunications that need to be addressed. There were a handful in this unit and Detroit just doesn't have the talent to make them pay.
Teams with a lot of shooting will make the Mavericks have to fly around as a unit and that could take a toll on them throughout games. Top teams in the Western Conference have the necessary pieces to shred this apart.
Will the Mavs Stick With Powell as Starter?
When seeing how limited the Mavericks are defensively with Dwight Powell and Kristaps Porzingis sharing the court, it doesn't seem to make sense to use this as a regular combination.
There are situational circumstances where a Powell-Porzingis pairing is a logical move. In fact, the Mavericks' two upcoming matchups with the Los Angeles Lakers could be a prime example.
Anthony Davis will be back in the lineup and the team has Andre Drummond at the five spot. Powell will surely be needed to help bang down low with those players, whether as a starter or coming off the bench.
"Going forward, we'll see. There's going to be some fluidity in the lineup based on matchups," Carlisle said. "The Lakers are coming in here with [Anthony Davis] and [Andre Drummond] and a lot of other good players, so we will look at everything and see what's what before (Thursday's tipoff)."
It's especially important for the Mavericks to go with a smaller lineup when they face a team that has speed and shooting. With how much switching that goes on throughout games, man-to-man defense is too difficult against such matchups and zone has its limits against teams with more shooting.