Dirk Nowitzki spent Tuesday at the Lympo practice facility walking on a treadmill and riding a stationary bike, at least during the media’s availability at the end of the Dallas Mavericks’ final practice before their 2018-19 season begins Wednesday.
The Mavs left a few hours later for Phoenix, where they will play the Suns and No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.
They will do so without Nowitzki, who is still recovering from April ankle surgery, and Harrison Barnes, who will miss the opener because of a strained right hamstring.
Though the Mavs believe their other starters are better and their other bench players have improved from last season, those are two big holes to fill.
“I like the starters. I like the bench,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s tough not having a 31,000-point scorer ready to go or your best player, who has been Harrison Barnes the last two years. We’ve been dealt this hand pretty early on in training camp. There’s no big surprise here. It’s going to be hard work, going on the road on national TV. There’s nothing easy about that.”
The Mavs have options to fill in for both, with Dorian Finney-Smith possibly in the starting lineup for Barnes. Rookie Luka Doncic, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan will start against the Suns.
Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell have similar size to Nowitzki when it’s needed off the bench. While Barnes could play Saturday in the home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Nowitzki could be a month away.
“We’ll make it work until Dirk gets back,” Carlisle said. “Wherever Dirk plays, he’s going to be a positive. That’s the story of his career.”
Deandre vs. DeAndre
The paint at Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix will be a focal point, with Ayton playing in his first NBA game and with Jordan playing his first game for the Mavs.
Jordan and Carlisle are both aware of the kind of player Ayton, a 7-footer from the Bahamas, has the potential to be based on seeing him play in college at Arizona, the NBA Summer League and in the preseason.
“He’s a great young player,” Carlisle said. “We’re going to have our hands full with him both facing up on the perimeter and in the post, where he spends a good amount of time.”
Jordan’s defense declined last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, but he is widely regarded as the game’s best interior defender and is the best rebounder in the league. Ayton will have his hands full, but Jordan said shutting the rookie down will take all five Mavs on the floor.
“I watched him play a little bit in college, so I know he’s a great talent,” Jordan said. “Honestly, we’re worried about us. We’re worried about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to compete. It’s going to be a battle.”