3 things from a predictable Mavericks loss to the Pelicans, 112-103

With Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis seated, the Dallas Mavericks fell to the New Orleans Pelicans, 112-103. Tim Hardaway, Jr. led the Mavericks in scoring, adding 30 points and five rebounds. Zion Williamson was the Pelicans’ leading scorer with 38 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back, but New Orleans started the game with full energy. The Pelicans took control in the first quarter, as the Mavericks couldn’t find any offense. But Dallas found its footing in the second quarter, closing the gap behind a scoring blast from Hardaway. The Mavericks went 17-0 toward the end of the half, and the teams entered the halftime tied at 53.

Neither team was able to walk away in the third and changed the lead during the fourth quarter. But towards the end of the game, the Mavericks could do nothing to contain Williamson. He scored or assisted on all of the Pelicans’ last 14 points to close out the game. In the end, Nickeil Alexander-Walker hit a 3-pointer to seal the game off an assist from Williamson with just over a minute to play.

It is difficult to evaluate much with Doncic and Porzingis out. The Mavericks have built their team around Doncic and try to involve Porzingis as much as possible, so when they’re not on the court it’s a completely different team. There are not many general conclusions here. But here are three observations of what turned out to be a predictable loss:

Tim Hardaway Jr. appeared big

Hardaway exploded in the first half, scoring 21 of his 30 points, including 3 of 5 shots from behind the arc. He just kept the Mavericks in the game with his game. Hardaway isn’t always consistent, but it’s the reason Dallas has won multiple games this season.

Hardaway couldn’t continue his fiery scoring in the second half, only adding nine points the rest of the way. New Orleans shifted some of its focus to shut it down, and it showed. He’s just not built to be a leading scorer, and without Doncic for the defense to focus, the Pelicans were able to stop Hardaway.

It was Hardaway’s second 30-point game of the season. Usually when you add up numbers like that, the Mavericks win. But that was not the case tonight.

Despite having several players down, Rick Carlisle still wasn’t playing with the rookies.

Carlisle’s refusal to play rookies is puzzling. The Mavericks had four fewer players: Doncic, Porzingis, along with recently traded James Johnson and Wes Iwundu. Johnson and Iwundu didn’t have set minutes, but in a game where Doncic and Porzingis were out, they would surely have seen some time on the court.

So when Josh Green and Tyler Bey didn’t play at all, it was surprising to say the least. Your margin to win is significantly reduced when sitting as All-Stars, even against weaker teams like the Pelicans. The game can be reduced to a few mistakes, and it goes without saying that newbies make a lot of mistakes. But with such a short rotation, it just doesn’t make sense for Green and Bey not to play, even if it’s only in limited stretches.

Josh Richardson keeps fighting

The Mavericks are playing the shortest regular-season rotation I’ve ever seen. If someone in that rotation has problems, it impacts the game in a significant way. Richardson only scored four points on 1-11 shooting. He also had three of the Mavericks’ seven turnovers. Dallas just can’t allow anyone to play bad if one of its two stars sits down. And if they’re both out, it’s a disaster. Nobody is asking Richardson to lead the Mavericks when Doncic is out, but he has to be more efficient. The Mavericks can’t afford for their starting guard to have more turnovers than shots from the field. Dallas is 19-7 when Richardson scores at least 10 points and doesn’t win in nine games when he doesn’t.

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