The Dallas Mavericks have a problem. That’s easy to say about a team with a 15-29 record but the problem, at the moment, is pervasive. It reared its head again Saturday during a matinee match with the Los Angeles Lakers. Dallas fell behind early, minutes after the opening tip. By the time the first quarter ended, Los Angeles led by 11 points, 31-20. Slow starts are now en vogue for the Mavs and the team is taking notice.
“Our big problem, right now, is starting games.” head coach Rick Carlisle said recently. “You know, getting off to slow starts, spotting leads, and cushions—execution has got to be better.”
In their last six games, the Mavericks allowed opponents to out-score them 180-144 in the first quarter. That averages out to 24 points for Dallas and 30 for their opponent. The one game that the Mavs held the upper hand after the opening 12 minutes came against the Orlando Magic. Dallas led 25-19 and went on to win that game but all things told, it was apparent that something needed to change.
“I’ve looked at it,” Carlisle said about the possibility of changing the starting lineup. “I’ve looked at the possibility of changing it. A change would open up other challenges that would be greater. We’ve just simply got to do better.”
Regardless of the challenges, Carlisle made a change to the starting lineup the following game against the Charlotte Hornets. Maxi Kleber, who started every game since November 17, 2017, was out and Yogi Ferrell was in.
Dallas beat Charlotte, 115-111, but it wasn’t because of improved first quarter play. The Hornets hung 28 points on the Mavs, who only mustered 20. Ferrell also started the following game against the Lakers and, as mentioned, the Mavs stumbled out of the gate in that one too.
It’s not as if the Mavs are playing poor offensively in first quarters, per se. In the last six games, they’re shooting 40.1 percent on field goals and 40.4 percent on 3-pointers in the first frame. Taken at face value, those are good marks. However, Dallas’ defense appears to be the real issue when it comes to letting teams get the jump on it. Opponents are shooting an astounding 57.5 percent from the floor and 50 percent from behind the arc in the last six first quarters.
“That’s just something we’re going to have to figure out,” Harrison Barnes said after the 107-101 overtime loss to the Lakers. “We’ve changed lineups. We’ve tried a bunch of different things but slow starts seem to be continuing to plague us. We just have to get better at that to start closing out games and not letting teams get into a rhythm, get comfortable and then we’re dealing with that as the rest of the game goes on.”
There is a potential glimmer of hope, though. In the two games Ferrell started, while opponents shot a whopping 57.4 percent overall, they only connected on 22.2 percent of their 3-point attempts. Of course, this is a small sample size and may have everything to do with both Charlotte and Los Angeles being bad 3-point shooting teams rather than Ferrell seeing more first quarter minutes.
The Mavericks are not a team looking to lose games. You can see it in their demeanor and hear it in their voices after a loss. Unfortunately, they appear fated to lose this season. While they’ve faced and overcome a number of challenges so far, slow starts are the latest issue tripping them up.
“It just happens to be the same stuff all the time,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “At home, just kind of ease into the game. The other team is ready to go and they’re really taking it to us. And then, we’re kind of reacting all night long and fighting back. Sometimes [making a comeback] doesn’t work that way.”