The Dallas Mavericks opened their 2020-2021 regular-season schedule on Wednesday night, with a 106-102 loss to the Phoenix Suns at PHX Arena.
Not an ideal outcome for the Mavs, who came into the year as a top-tier Western Conference contender.
However, it was not the final result of the game that is the cause for concern. Rather, it was the entire body of work throughout the full 48 minutes of game time.
From the opening tip, Dallas looked... off. The 21-year-old Mavs superstar Luka Doncic was noticeably a step slow and seemed to be laboring from the early goings. He did finish with 32 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, but his struggles, especially early on, were easily apparent.
Said coach Rick Carlisle: "He's still getting his game legs under him, and that'll get there. But look, he understands the game as well as any 21-year-old I've ever been around. He'll make the adjustments that are necessary."
Starting big Dwight Powell, who, despite an inconsistent track record of on-the-court performance is an organizational favorite, looked completely lost during his time on the court. So lost, in fact, that he was benched after just 17 minutes of action, in favor of reserve big, Willie Cauley-Stein.
Said Rick of WCS: "Defensively, he gives us a different presence.''
Tim Hardaway Jr. was cold, Maxi Kleber was a team-worst -18 in 27 minutes, and the small guard tandem of Jalen Brunson and Trey Burke struggled to keep the offense moving with Doncic on the bench.
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In the end, a loss is a loss. But when you're entire offense hinges on ball movement, chemistry, and three-point shooting, the effort the Mavs put onto national television on Wednesday night is more than alarming.
Perhaps the offseason was too short, or perhaps there was too much turnover on the roster from last season. Or maybe, they were just unprepared.
Whatever the case, Dallas needs to figure out the crux of the issue before Christmas Day, when they travel to Los Angeles to take on LeBron James and the defending NBA Champion Lakers at the Staples Center. A Lakers team that, by all accounts, is far more talented across the board than the Phoenix Suns.
It is entirely possible that they return to their preseason form and bounce back with an impressive performance in primetime.
At least, they better hope they do, or this team could be staring directly down the barrel of an 0-3 start. And in a shortened season, where every game means just a fraction more towards postseason hopes, that is not an ideal scenario.
Carlisle, of course, recognizes this.
"Winning and losing in the Western Conference this year is going to come down to concentration on details,'' he said. "There's just a few things we've got to do better."