You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- The good news first: as Dallas showed during their meager third-quarter run, the core of this team can still sync up and move the ball. They’re just not there yet; there’s some natural rust and the expected conditioning issues, but the lack of on-court chemistry is the most crippling post-lockout factor at this point. That five-man coordination is certain to return among the core from last season, and it’s only a matter of time before Lamar Odom, Delonte West, and Vince Carter find their way.
- But let’s get one thing straight: even an on-point Mavericks team probably would have lost to Miami on Sunday. Even a Mavericks team with Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea and Caron Butler would’ve lost to Miami on Sunday. This Heat team was brutally effective, and though they took advantage of the defending champs at a particularly vulnerable time, we can look forward to them playing the same oppressive style all season long with similar — albeit less exaggerated — results. This turned out to be an 11-point game, but only after the Mavs’ deep reserves played their way into a successful fourth quarter. Good for them, and good for the fans who came out to the AAC on this most snowflakey of holidays. But it doesn’t mean Dallas was anything other than outclassed and unprepared, or that this game was any less of a rout than the first half suggested.
- Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, 6-15 FG, five rebounds) just isn’t himself, and he may not be for weeks. Again: don’t fret about Dirk — matter of time, and all. But maybe we should express some concern about this team in general, and the hole the Mavs may very well dig for themselves if things don’t turn around post-haste. The coming games are bound to look rosier than the one on Sunday, but if the Mavs take too long to gel, it could be pretty costly. The sub-OKC stratum in the Western Conference is quite crowded, and though playoff seeding is a pretty distant concern on opening night, it’s still something to keep in mind as Dallas struggles out of the gate.
- Vince Carter (five points, three assists, two turnovers) started in the backcourt alongside Jason Kidd, but that arrangement may not stick; Rick Carlisle had already swapped him out for Delonte West by halftime, and that starting role could be a flex spot determined by the opponent all season long. Plus: Carter’s still getting into the swing, but he started his season off with a dud.
- While Dallas struggles, they’ll be particularly vulnerable to zone defensive looks. The Heat toyed with that strategy at various points in their Christmas Day blowout, and it just crushed any semblance of spacing Dallas had been able to create. In theory, the Mavs ball movement and high post presence would be able to counter zones fairly well, but the lack of fluidity and struggles on the offensive glass make things particularly difficult for Dallas against space-oriented defenses.
- Miami killed the Mavs early by working the baseline, and exposed a different kind of flaw in defensive rotation. We often talk about what Tyson Chandler did for the Mavs in terms of defending the high pick-and-roll or limiting penetration from the perimeter, but his rotations against baseline drivers and cutters were sorely missed on Sunday. Hopefully Haywood can pick up the slack, in this area among others.
- Jason Terry (23 points, 9-18 FG, 4-10 3FG, three assists) is still rolling. He’s been wearing that championship robe all off-season long, and the magic that guided in his ridiculous Game 6 three-pointer over the outstretched arm of LeBron James apparently still hasn’t worn off yet. JET’s approach was a bit too forceful for the sake of a fully functional Mavs offense, but considering the way Dallas stalled on Sunday, we can hardly blame him for taking matters into his own hands. That doesn’t mean it was the right decision, but it was an understandable one — and notably, one that became less of a problem as the game wore on.
- Terry and Odom checked into the game together at the 5:38 mark in the first quarter, which could be the start of a pattern. Carlisle had Terry and Marion sub in at the same time early last season (when Caron Butler was still in the lineup), and would bring in Nowitzki and J.J. Barea together at the tail end of the first. These patterns alone don’t offer a ton of insight, but they do give us an idea of which players are likely to see time when and in what roles they might operate.
- Subtle adjustments in LeBron James’ post game: he’s keeping the ball up on his face-up opportunities, and he’s removed the fade from his turnaround jumper. These things may not seem like much, but for a player with James’ speed, strength and shooting ability, such technical tweaks are insanely valuable.
- Odom didn’t have all that much luck creating or driving in the Mavs’ half-court offense, but he did a fantastic job of creating in the open court and on the secondary break. As I’ve mentioned before, his passing ability is a potential gold mine; not only does he generate easy buckets for players who otherwise have trouble creating for themselves, but his playmaking gives Dallas even more lineup flexibility. Most importantly: Odom’s shot creation could mean more rest for Jason Kidd, eventually, which is even more of a necessity this season than it would be in any other.
- Delonte West (10 points, three assists, three steals, three turnovers) makes things easier. That doesn’t mean all that much in a lopsided game like this one, but when Dallas is able to bring things closer to a balance, West has the potential to put the Mavs over the top with smart passing, defensive aptitude (his work on Dwyane Wade in this particular game was exceptional), and varied scoring. We saw glimpses of all of those skills in garbage time, but they’ll be even more impressive when he’s catalyzing the first-team offense against elite competition.