DALLAS -- In all three games the Dallas Mavericks have played this season -- two preseason clunkers against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Christmas Day blowout loss against the Miami Heat -- they've trailed by at least 23 points in the third quarter (by 35 Sunday to the Heat) and have yet to register a victory.
The common thread in all three is that the Thunder and Heat are talented title contenders that entered this shortened season virtually unchanged, a significant advantage. As was feared for the Mavs, Sunday's result proved that the heavy roster change is going to take time to sort out.
"They were a better team today, that's pretty obvious," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of the Heat after the 105-94 defeat. "We've got a lot of work to do and every day we're going to have to make some gradual strides to get better. We had some stretches where we got some traction, but the consistency is not there. We've got to keep studying and keep working on it."
The morning after every game, we'll provide this 3-point review of what happened and what's coming. Here's three to take away from Sunday's loss while looking ahead to tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets:
1. Defense, defense, defense: It doesn't matter if Tyson Chandler, Mike Tyson or Chandler from "Friends" is manning the middle, the Mavs have to play better on the defensive end. Transition defense was awful and the Heat shot 48.7 percent overall, but over 57 percent before an eight-point fourth quarter. It helps when 31 points come on the fast break and 44 in the paint (an 18-0 Heat edge in the first quarter alone). Carlisle said he hoped the Mavs' defense would be ahead of the offense (37.8 percent shooting; 32.1 percent -- 9-of-28 from 3), but Sunday showed both aspects need a great deal of work.
2. The new guys: Lamar Odom had a r0ugh debut, but there's little concern that he won't fit in soon enough. Delonte West should be fine backing up Jason Kidd. The question is, what about Vince Carter? He had a miserable debut from the get-go when his first jumper was tipped and he couldn't finish his second attempt at the rim. Carlisle benched Carter to start the second half and later the coach said that there could be "variance" in the starting two-guard spot from game to game. That's not exactly a confidence-builder for Carter, who turns 35 next month and clearly is no longer capable of the type of vertical performances that came to define his game. How Carlisle handles Carter -- and how Carter responds -- will be intriguing to watch.
3. Target practice: Carlisle and the players have been trumpeting the notion that every team on the schedule will want a piece of the defending champs. Next up is a potentially dangerous Denver team that will test the Mavs' interior defense with the return of center Nene in their season opener. The Nuggets no longer have star power, but they do have a young squad that will push the tempo. "We'll have to put our track shoes on," Mavs forward Shawn Marion said. "It's going to be a race [tonight], too."