As I sat down to watch the Dallas Mavericks take on a streaking Utah Jazz team, I remembered to taper my expectations.

This entire season Dallas has played without a full roster. Wednesday night was the first time the Mavs had each rotational piece at its disposal come game time. That is why after the 116-104 loss, there was no disappointment on my end. There wasn’t any banging of the fists in frustration. Nor was there any confusion in regards to what I just saw. Instead, there was the hope of a brighter day for this Dallas team.

The Game by the numbers:

Luka Doncic didn’t tally a triple-double on Wednesday, but he did end the game with 30 points, six assists, and four rebounds.

A box score like Wednesday for Doncic is considered a bad game. He can sleepwalk to 30 points if he wanted. Luka is simply just that great. However, what he and the Mavs want at this point in the season is simple – wins.

“I don’t know what to say,” Doncic said post-game. “There’s a lot of things wrong. We’re just now ourselves right now. We’ve got to pick it up and be way better than this.”

Doncic is right. Dallas hasn’t been close to itself all season. Last night the Mavs got back Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Richardson, and Dwight Powell off the COVID-19 reserve list. And basketball is a rhythm game. It’s hard to take three rotational players who haven’t played in weeks and insert them back into the rotation. They won’t have the necessary rhythm to compete at a high level immediately. And Mavs fans saw that as Finney-Smith totaled three points on 1-8 shooting. Richardson tallied six points and was a -11 while on the floor. Meanwhile, Powell only took one shot in the entire game.

Getting these key players back to the level they were playing at before will take time. But if you ask Tim Hardaway Jr., it shouldn’t take too long.

“Those three guys are competitive guys, so it won’t take long to get their juices flowing,” He said post-game. “Collectively as a group, we haven’t played together as a whole team.

“…That’s no excuse, but at the same time, it’s going to be tough. But, hey, if it was easy everybody would be doing it.”

It won’t be easy, but it can happen for Dallas. To get its rotational players back with Kristaps Porzingis now in the fold, a breakthrough could be right around the corner.

The glimpses of it coming together are there. They are the simple plays that involve a back screen to get one guy open, or Luka finding an open shooter in the corner. In last night’s affair, it was a Porzingis dunk off of a well-designed offensive set.

What patchwork needs to be done:

Once a team is in the middle of an NBA season, there are limited avenues for improvement. But that doesn’t mean Dallas doesn’t have options. Even with key rotation players back, I expect the team to make a move at the trade deadline, or explore buyout options to add to its arsenal going forward.

Rebounding has been an issue all season. Last night was, again, no different than most. The Mavs were outrebounded 50-36. Could the Mavs make a move for an established athletic big that gives them a real presence in the frontcourt? The move would make sense. Rebounding is one of Dallas’ structural needs over anything else. Though Porzingis is a seven-footer, he is not an elite rebounder, nor is Willie Cauley-Stein. Having a guy who is simply hungry to anchor defensive possessions with a rebound would abate the effort issues on that end of the floor.

Dallas also desperately misses what Seth Curry added to the team last season. Letting him go for Richardson was a move Dallas needed to make, but the organization did a bad job at finding an adequate replacement for his production. All that to say, the Mavs need a knockdown, no hesitations shooter within the offense. Trey Burke and Jalen Brunson do a fine job at providing off-the-bench shot creation, but they aren’t unconscious three-point bombers. Doncic needs a perimeter release valve going forward. The difficulty will be in finding one that is both affordable and available. Three-point marksmanship comes at a premium in the league these days.

Looking ahead:

Don’t despair. Brighter days for the Mavericks are ahead in the season. The team made it through its COVID-19 encounter. Hopefully,  that doesn’t happen again. Dallas survived the weeks without Porzingis. His health makes this team dangerous on any given night. And now head coach Rick Carlisle has all his players back (aside from Maxi Kleber) so he can actually work on finding lineups that are effective going forward. The Mavs didn’t win the game on Wednesday, but the team still has a chance to win in the long term. There is always some remnant of hope.

Feature image via Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports