Rick Carlisle has been saying it repeatedly for almost a month now.
Ever since the Dallas Mavericks pulled off two big trades before the deadline, Carlisle has said the rest of the season would be largely devoted to learning what he had to work with going into the off-season.
Only two starting roles are set in stone for next season. And both of those players were sitting on the bench Friday night against the Denver Nuggets at American Airlines Center.
The rookie Luka Doncic missed his third game with a sore right ankle. The other is Kristaps Porzingis, who was acquired in a seven-player trade with the New York Knicks. Porzingis is recovering from a knee injury and isn’t expected to play at all this season.
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So Friday’s game gave Carlisle plenty of chances to see what he had in newly-acquired players such as Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Justin Jackson. And to also give some of his other young players such as Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell a chance to show their skills.
Dallas kept it competitive through the first half and trailed by only one against No. 2-seeded Denver. In the third quarter, however, the Nuggets pulled away, outscoring the Mavs by 16 and winning 114-104. Denver shot 53.8 percent in the court while Dallas struggled at 38.1 percent from the field.
“The rebounding was the biggest problem all night,” Carlisle said. “We needed to get more people involved but they have three phenomenal rebounders with [Nikola] Jokic, [Paul] Millsap, and [Mason] Plumlee and they just beat us to death.”
Each grabbed 13 boards each as Denver held a 63-42 rebound advantage. Dorian Finney-Smith led the Mavs with nine.
Brunson led the Mavs with a career-high 22 points on 8 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 5 from the 3-point arc. Powell scored a season-high 20 points on 6 of 12 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench.
“I loved the way he started the game,” Carlisle said. “He had a rough patch into it a bit and then he had a strong finish. A lot of good things. I like the way he keeps a steady approach. He doesn’t get rattled, he just keeps playing.”
Finney-Smith and Hardaway each score 13 points. Ten Mavs players saw at least 14 minutes of action. Courtney Lee played almost 11 minutes.
“I didn’t like a lot about it because it meant we went through periods where we were looking for guys to play well,” Carlisle said. “But we need to find out as much as we can about our new guys and we’re starting to get there. I like all of them. They’re getting integrated into what we’re doing at both ends of the floor in terminology and all that kind of stuff.”