Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Oct. 31) -- Mavs trying to find way out of winless funk

Mavericks seek end to free fall | Warriors or worriers? | Westbrook poses triple-double trouble | Tough love from Thibs

No. 1: Mavericks seek to end freefall — Dirk Nowitzki is sick. And the rest of the Dallas Mavericks aren’t feeling so great, either, due to their 0-3 start to the 2016-17 regular season. It’s an early-season thud to which Dallas — a playoff team in 15 of the past 16 seasons — is not accustomed. And losing the way they did to Houston — with a fraction of a second left, on a free throw by James Harden — to fall 3.5 games behind San Antonio (4-0) not even a full week into the schedule was especially galling. Tim McMahon of chronicled the postgame Mavs mood:

“We need a damn win,” said Mavs shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who scored 25 points, including a game-tying 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds to go, and played phenomenal defense on Harden before committing the final foul. “We can’t fall behind. We’ve already slipped enough. We can’t slip anymore. Whatever the hell it takes, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

It will definitely take a healthy Nowitzki for the Mavs to have any hope of making the playoffs, which Dallas has done 15 of the past 16 seasons. The exception was 2012-13, when Nowitzki missed the first two months of the season following arthroscopic knee surgery.

Whether Nowitzki will be healthy in the near future is a legitimate concern. His illness, which forced him to rush to the restroom right before tipoff, after he went through warm-ups, might not be the biggest worry

“He’s sick, and his Achilles is bothering him, so he’s out,” Carlisle said. “And I don’t have a timetable. Hopefully, it’s not serious. So we’ll see.”

For the Mavs to recover from their poor start, they have to hope they turned a corner defensively in the second half. After the Rockets lit it up for 63 points in the first half, the Mavs held Houston to only 30 points on 25 percent shooting in the final 24 minutes.

Matthews looked like the defensive stopper Dallas paid him to be when they signed him to a $70 million deal a couple summers ago. With Matthews all up in his whiskers, Harden had as many turnovers (four) as buckets (4-of-13 shooting) in the second half.

“He played an unbelievable game,” Carlisle said of Matthews, saying it was one of the “best games as a competitor” that he has witnessed in his time in the NBA. “We’re up against it right now in a lot of ways, but no one’s backing down from their will to compete. We’ve just got to stay the course with this and keep making small corrections. We’ve just got to find a way.”

The Mavs believe their character is to compete. It has to be. This is a team with personnel flaws that will have to fight to claim one of the West’s last few playoff spots, especially if Dallas digs itself a hole in the early portion of the season.

“Our margin for error is slim, like most NBA teams,” Matthews said. “We’re not the Golden State Warriors. We’re not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We’re not the Spurs. But we’re a damn good team.”


No. 2: Warriors’ Green: ‘Teams are trying to punk us’ — The Golden State Warriors knew they’d have media types assembled en masse to gauge every action, word and inch of progress toward the new-and-improved “super team” they’re expected to be. Three games seems like a ridiculously small sample size to judge, but judge they are. Both the media types and the Warriors themselves, who have grown a bit impatient. A pair of reports by Chris Haynes assessed the situation:

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green said teams are being more physical with them this season.

“Teams are trying to punk us, [but] it’s fine,” Green said after the Warriors defeated the Phoenix Suns 106-100 on Sunday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “We’re not going to get punked.”

Green didn’t mention a particular team or player to whom he might have been referring. He hasn’t been involved in any physical altercations through the first three games. The scouting report on the Warriors the past few seasons has been to rough them up and hope they wear down as the game goes on.

There was one physical exchange in the second quarter. Warriors guard Stephen Curry drained a 3-pointer from the right wing, and Suns reserve guard Brandon Knight bumped him from behind, sending Curry crashing to the floor.

It should have been a four-point play, but the official didn’t blow his whistle. An irate Curry got up and pushed Knight into the front-row seats as the Suns attempted to get out on a fast break. Curry was called for a personal foul.

If fairly slight Brandon Knight muscling up against you is your biggest problem, you’re not in such a bad way. But Golden State coach Steve Kerr suggests there is more to it:

“We were frustrated in the first half. You guys can all see it. This is not coming easily,” Kerr said. “We have a new team and a lot of different faces, but even for the returning guys, it’s a different mix.”

This is the second straight close game in which the Warriors have partaken. They’ve won both contests on the road, but the wins were against an injury-stricken New Orleans Pelicans team and a rebuilding Phoenix Suns squad. Their lone loss was a lopsided 29-point rout to the San Antonio Spurs on opening night at Oracle Arena.

Kerr offered his opinion on the shots they’ve been launching.

“I think we’re having some open shots, but we’re not really getting rhythm shots and that’s been our hallmark for the last couple of years,” he said.

Phoenix used its youth and athleticism to convert Golden State’s 16 turnovers into 25 points. A lack of chemistry and hesitancy has shown throughout the team’s first three games. Miscommunication and blown assignments have been rampant, leading to coughing up the ball and head-scratching plays.

Kerr said he’s calling more plays than usual to build some form of continuity until his players can figure it out.

“We had some good individual efforts to help us pull it out,” Kerr said, “but the main thing is while we’re going through this early part of the season sorting through rotations and offensively trying to get going, we just have to compete and pick up our share of wins and we’ll find our stride eventually.”


No. 3: Westbrook poses triple-double trouble — Not since Magic Johnson in 1982-83 has a player begun the NBA season with triple-doubles in two of his first three games. That’s what Russell Westbrook has done, though, after his 33-point, 12-rebound and 16-assist performance Sunday in a home victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. And when you factor in Westbrook’s opportunities now with the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City team and his burning desires to both win and excel individually, the questions begin to take shape: How many triple-doubles can this guy rack up in 2016-17?’s Royce Young looked at Westbrook’s crazy-impressive numbers:

Westbrook is the fourth player to have two triple-doubles in the first three games, joining Johnson (twice), Jerry Lucas and Oscar Robertson (twice). Through three games, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double with 38.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 11.6 assists. Robertson is the last player to average a triple-double, in 1961-62.

“I just like to win,” Westbrook said. “That’s my main thing. My job is to come out and do whatever it takes to win, and that’s what I try to do every night.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Westbrook is the first player with at least 100 points, 30 rebounds and 30 assists in the first three games of a season.

“It’s a blessing, not surreal, it’s just blessing [to be mentioned with those names],” Westbrook said. “Me personally, I never take anything for granted when I step on the floor. Not once.”

Westbrook opened the season with 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists against the Philadelphia 76ers, and then followed that up with 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists against the Phoenix Suns. The Thunder are 3-0.

‘What really amazes me is, because of his ability to impact the game in so many different ways, he’s going to always have numbers,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “But with that being said, what amazes me is the heart and the passion and the competitiveness and the fire he plays with every single night. I think it’s extremely rare. It’s incredible. That’s what really amazes me.”


No. 4: Wolves get tough love from Thibodeau — Given the Minnesota Timberwolves’ youthful talent base and how early they are into their maturation as an improving Western Conference team, coach Tom Thibodeau’s criticisms after their 106-103 giveaway loss at Sacramento might have sounded a little harsh or, at least, premature. On the other hand, what’s wrong with having high expectations and making it clear even as the Wolves roll on training wheels that there are certain ways to do things and certain ways to avoid. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has more:

After watching Sacramento outscore his team 31-12 in that [third] quarter — including a 24-1 run during which the Kings scored 17 unanswered points — he deemed his team lacks toughness of all kinds.

“Everything: Mental toughness, physical toughness, emotional toughness, all aspects of it,” he said afterward. “Every team has two or three primary scorers, and they’re going to put pressure on you and you have to respond. It’s not any one person’s responsibility. It’s the entire team’s. We have to get tied together and have discipline …

“The third quarter was a problem, a big problem. We have to get a lot tougher. That’s what I see.”

On Saturday, the Kings had veteran stars DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay — and they were plenty. Wolves big men Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich and Karl-Anthony Towns used most of the fouls they had trying unsuccessfully to counter Cousins’ smash-mouth style, but his 29-point, seven-rebound performance proved decisive before he fouled out in the game’s final minutes.

Gay added 28 points in a game in which the Wolves trailed by 10 points early in the fourth, tied the score three times and ultimately lost after they played the final 6½ minutes without starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who sprained his right elbow.

The Wolves had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds, but Andrew Wiggins’ 21-foot jump missed and so, too, did Dieng’s off-balance put-back attempt.

“That wasn’t enough, man,” Dieng said afterward at his locker stall next to teammates Wiggins and Zach LaVine. “Just coming back wasn’t enough. We lost two games already. We just try to win. That’s all that matters to me right now. We invest a lot of stuff this summer to try and get better. The time is now. This is my fourth year, Wigs’ third year, Zach’s third year. There are no more young puppies here. We just have to man up and play harder.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Houston’s defense is ahead of its offense? Under new coach Mike D’Antoni? Seriously? … Fully healed, Julius Randle has been a source of optimism for the Los Angeles Lakers. … The Boston Celtics might be the only team in league history to credit a little girl’s “princess party” for some helpful team bonding. … Charlotte Hornets center Frank Kamisnky has stayed true to his Chicago White Sox roots and loves needling his Cubs bandwagon-jumping friends. But he should still ditch the “Bartman” jersey. …