It's not as bad as it looked for Mavs

DALLAS -- Wow, what a lump of coal that was. But let's start this discussion with some historical perspective.

The defending champion Miami Heat opened the 2006-07 season at home, raised the banner and then laid a Shaq-sized egg by getting plowed by 42 points against a pre-Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls team, 108-66.

So settle down. The Mavs never trailed in this Christmas Day extravaganza by more than 35 points in the third quarter.

A blowout loss was predicted by some, anticipated by others -- maybe not such a thorough whipping from tip to buzzer, but a blowout nonetheless. The recipe was there considering Miami's roster continuity and desire for a little payback, plus Dallas' roster upheaval, the 10 days or so of training camp once everyone finally got here and then two lineup-challenged preseason games.

The defending champs raised the banner in an admittedly emotional ceremony, and then -- despite cautionary tales from coach Rick Carlisle of such wipeouts occurring after the banner goes up -- checked out of this one after Lamar Odom tied it at 11-11. Odom officially checked out at the 5:06 mark of the third quarter, after playing just 13 minutes, having barked his way to a couple of technicals and an automatic ejection.

Of course, if we can look at Miami's '07 opening stinker for perspective to blow this one off, we might as well look at what followed. The Heat started the season 6-9, finished it 44-38 and were swept out of the first round.

"It's the first game of the season," newcomer guard Delonte West said, "and I don't think you can judge either team or any team that plays [Sunday] and the next couple days and envision where they'll be at in June."

That was pretty much the company line, and rightfully so, after Heat 105, Mavs 94, a final score that masked the massacre.

Even before the game and the banner, owner Mark Cuban might have even seen this one coming.

"This is going to be the definition of a season where it doesn't really matter how you start," Cuban said. "It's how you finish."

So true. Just ask the 1998-99 New York Knicks, the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed that advanced to the NBA Finals after the lockout-shortened, 50-game schedule.

Still, there's no getting around the fact that there are multiple wrinkles to be ironed out here.

And in this 66-game sprint over 123 days, the Mavs will have little on-court practice time. In fact, the next time they hit the floor will be in welcoming the young, up-tempo Denver Nuggets to town Monday night for their season opener.

"The good thing is we got a game tomorrow," Carlisle said. "The bad thing is we got a game tomorrow."

Carlisle sort of smiled, or maybe smirked, as he said that. But he recognized his job would get tougher the day his billionaire boss decided to steer this thing toward cap space and set the club's free agents scurrying to other NBA teams.

The fourth-year Mavs coach has to mesh a group of veterans that are replacing high-contribution players who were entrenched in the system.

Already on Sunday, Carlisle benched Vince Carter after halftime and started West, the backup point guard, in the third quarter at shooting guard, citing a need for more playmaking, a role departed free agent J.J. Barea used to fill.

Odom managed just four points, four fouls and two technicals in his debut. West finished with 10 points and some scrappy play, but in nearly 10 minutes of the first half he had a bucket and no assists.

The center position is a mess, although Carlisle defended, as he often has, Brendan Haywood's unspectacular line of no points, three rebounds and no blocks -- while having underwhelming Heat center Joel Anthony swat his little hook from 3 feet away.

Dallas shot 28.9 percent in the first half -- with 11 mostly sloppy turnovers -- and 37.8 percent overall thanks only to a fourth-quarter, garbage-time rally. Dirk Nowitzki started 2-of-9 and Shawn Marion, who fractured his left pinkie finger but should be OK for Monday's game, had two points and two shot attempts at the half.

"I think chemistry is big and we've got a lot of different pieces out there," point guard Jason Kidd said. "We're going to work everybody in and everybody has to get used to one another. It's going to take time."

As for a defense Dallas hung its hat on last season, particularly in transition -- and that Carlisle hoped would be ahead of an offense that will need time to blend -- it needs some work, too.

Miami outscored Dallas 28-8 in the paint in the first half and 44-28 for the game. The Heat, looking to run whenever possible, scored 31 fast-break points.

And so, as will be said a lot this season, on to the next one.

"We're going to have to play a lot better basketball and we're going to have to forge an identity with this team. It's a different team," Carlisle said. "And, that's work and it's going to take work. It's going to take honesty, and it's not going to be easy."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.