Okay, slow is an understatement, historically slow just scratches surface.
The Dallas Mavericks have done something no other defending NBA champion has even come close to: they have been blown out of their building in their first two games of the season. Dallas lost their opener to the Miami Heat 105-94 in a game that wasn’t even remotely that close; Miami led 97-65 after three quarters. Then the next night, the Mavs lost the Denver Nuggets 115-93 in a game also wasn’t well represented by its final; after three periods the Mavs trailed 97-68. Of course all this suggests that the Mavericks haven’t lost their fourth quarter Mojo from last season, but what’s happening in the other three is cause for concern.
I think the two games tell us more about their opponents and the nature of this compressed 66 game/120 schedule than it does about the Mavericks. First of all Miami and Denver are very good teams. Both will likely finish in the upper echelons of their conference. Everybody knew this about Miami, but remember in the 25 games following the trade of Carmelo Anthony last season, Denver went 19-6. They faltered in the playoffs due to a bad matchup (OKC) and injuries.
If the compressed 1999 season can serve as a case study, then continuity is one of the biggest keys to success in the NBA this season. The Mavericks have four new players in their rotation, Delonte West, Vince Carter, Sean Williams and Lamar Odom. Those guys had just over a week to learn a new offensive system then they combined for 90 minutes of action against the Nuggets, and 59 against Miami. Meanwhile Dallas lost the backbone of their defense when Tyson Chandler left to join the Knicks.
This kind of turnover guarantees that the Mavericks will be a work in progress for a few weeks to come, but the schedule maker isn’t going to be kind. Thursday night, the Mavericks get another elite opponent that underwent minimal offseason change and has a score to settle, the Oklahoma City Thunder. So expect the whats wrong with the Mavericks hue and cry to grow. But there isn’t anything wrong with Mavs that some time to play together won’t fix. Even if the Mavs get clobbered by the Thunder, there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the playoff hunt by midseason.
OTOH, if on Friday night the Mavs get blown out by Toronto, then something may be seriously wrong, but right now, their ills look like bad combination of short training camp and a brutal schedule than anything intrinsically wrong with the “reigning” champs. I’m sure they’ll be defending soon.