Preview: Timberwolves at Mavericks
After opening on the road, heralded Dallas rookie Luka Doncic will make his home debut against Minnesota on Saturday.
If things go well, Harrison Barnes will join him.
Barnes, the Mavs’ leading scorer the last two seasons, missed the season-opening 121-100 loss on Wednesday in Phoenix because of a sore right hamstring that kept him out the entire preseason.
Barnes practiced Friday but is “unlikely” to play Saturday, coach Rick Carlisle said.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, have welcomed four-time All-Star guard Jimmy Butler into the lineup while splitting their first two games. He missed most of the preseason while seeking a trade and ripped into teammates in his first practice last week, although anyone who believed the standoff would carry onto the court did not know Butler.
He scored 33 points on 12 shots from the field in a 131-123 victory over Cleveland in Minnesota’s home opener on Friday. Butler added seven rebounds, four rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots while going 12 of 12 from the foul line.
That, after scoring 23 points in a loss at San Antonio on Wednesday.
Butler heard some boos during pregame introductions, but by the second quarter some in the crowd were chanting “MVP.”
“It’s unbelievable all the things that he does,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The fans … he plays hard on every play. I think it’s an appreciation of that.”
The Timberwolves will be playing their third game in four nights, their second trip to Texas. Minnesota swept Dallas 4-0 last season.
While Butler’s days in Minnesota appear numbered, the Mavericks are counting on guard/forward Doncic to be around for the long haul. Perhaps as their next Dirk Nowitzki, around whom they can build a return to the national stage.
Nowitzki has been impressed by the understanding that Doncic, 19, brings.
“I’ve already seen him make passes behind the head or between the legs of people who are cutting to the basket,” Nowitzki said on a Dallas radio show.
“The knowledge he has, the vision of the game at this point, is incredible. I could not believe what I was seeing from someone 19. I think it’s going to be very good for us for a long, long time.”
Doncic filled the stat sheet in Phoenix despite being limited in the first half by foul trouble. And along with his 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four turnovers was a situational awareness that was noticeable on several plays, including a behind-the back bounce pass that led to a DeAndre Jordan dunk.
“Luka has to play his game, and he has to strike a balance between passing and being a threat to score,” Carlisle said. “If you don’t have that balance, teams can play you one way or the other and make it hard on you.”
Rim-protecting center Jordan also will make his Dallas debut, three years after agreeing to a free agent contract with the Mavericks before reconsidering and re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Jordan had a team-high 12 rebounds and was one of six Mavs who scored in double figures against Phoenix.
“Everything’s positive now,” Jordan told reporters about his previous flip-flop. “It was just such a fast situation. Unless you’re in that situation, you don’t know the ins, the outs, the emotions that come with it. I’m happy to be here and I’m happy that whole thing is over with.”
Dallas found plenty to work on before the home opener as Phoenix shot 54.3 percent from the field, made 19 3-pointers, held a 38-28 rebounding advantage and had 35 assists.
The Mavs shot 43.2 percent without Barnes and Nowitzki, likely out for several more weeks while recovering from offseason ankle surgery.
Third-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who missed much of last season with a knee injury, started for Barnes and had 12 points, three rebounds and three blocked shots. He also made 2 of 5 3-pointers.
After closing to 94-90 with seven minutes remaining, the Mavs were outscored 27-10 down the stretch.
“The second and third quarters it was pretty decent,” Carlisle said of his defense. “Forty-six points in the second and third quarter was manageable. It’s probably even a winning number in today’s game. But 75 combined in the first and fourth is disastrous.
“We’re capable, but it’s pretty clear what our biggest problem is.”