Countdown: Christmas preview

DALLAS -- On Thursday, just three days before the Dallas Mavericks are to begin their title defense against the Miami Heat, coach Rick Carlisle said the secret to any early success for his retooled team on the fly starts with simplicity.

"Simplicity has got to be the thing that helps mitigate the short period of prep time," Carlisle said. "We’ll add things piecemeal as we need to, but we can’t throw too much at these guys in a short period of time. And our emphasis has got to be on transition defense, staying in the front of the ball and getting rebounds. Those things lead to the good things that happen for us offensively."

He also said the hope is that defense can carry the team through the opening weeks when the offense might look ragged because of the lack of time for the newcomers to learn the plays and the tendencies of their teammates. That's interesting because so much of the Mavs' success last year was credited to precision team defense that included a smothering zone employed at strategic points, including late in close games.

"My hope is our defense will be ahead of our offense, and in that way I think it helps our overall situation," Carlisle said. "We’ve got two more days [of practice] and we can still gain ground, and that’s what our goal’s going to be."

Sunday's opener will start with the raising of the 2010-11 championship banner. From there, the day gets much tougher against a Heat team that remained intact and added Shane Battier and Eddy Curry.

Jason Terry said the roster, the short training camp ... none of it matters when the ball goes up at 1:30 p.m.

"Our advantage is that we do know our roles, we do know what guys need to do for us to be successful out there and I think coach has made that evident," Terry said. "I think going forward, guys just have to come out and do it, there’s just no other way. And there’s no other way to do it than in live action at a high level. You can’t get any higher than on Christmas Day against the Miami Heat."

Let's get to three key areas to watch:

1. Who starts and how deep does Carlisle go?

A logical starting lineup would see Jason Kidd and Vince Carter in the backcourt, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki at the forward positions and Brendan Haywood at center. The only deviation that makes much sense would be to start Lamar Odom at small forward in front of Marion, but Odom, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, is accustomed to coming off the bench and could be the first off the pine to give Nowitzki a breather. Delonte West will back up Kidd, and Terry will be first off the bench at shooting guard. After that it could get interesting. How quickly does Carlisle turn to Rodrigue Beaubois, and does he play it safe by pairing him with Kidd? Does Dominique Jones get any playing time at the point against an excellent defensive team? And what about the center rotation? Haywood has hardly been impressive during the two preseason games, but there's no other option as the starter. Does Ian Mahinmi get first crack or has Brandan Wright, who had a nice showing in his lone preseason appearance Tuesday, bumped himself into a second-string role?

2. With DeShawn Stevenson now playing for the New Jersey Nets, who will help Marion guard LeBron James?

There's no doubt that Stevenson gave James fits in the NBA Finals. So much so that Carlisle actually took Stevenson out of the starting lineup at shooting guard and had him back up Marion at small forward to check James. Stevenson also helped Kidd defend Dwyane Wade, a responsibility that will now seemingly fall on Kidd and Carter, which for the nearly 35-year-old Carter could be a mismatch. But back to LeBron -- the Mavs just don't have another rugged defender to go toe-to-toe with him and that could be a major problem.

3. Which of the Mavs' newcomers is positioned to have the biggest impact?

Lamar Odom. In his first preseason game, with little working knowledge of the Mavs' offensive system, he put up 14 points and seven rebounds. In Tuesday's second game, Odom had just eight points and three rebounds, yet said he actually felt more comfortable. Because of the shooters Dallas can put on the court at any time, Odom's ability to put it on the floor and hit the 3-pointer should see him as a focal point of the offense. Most interesting should be when the 6-foot-10 Odom and 7-foot Nowitzki are on the floor together, a pairing that should create some matchup problems for the Heat.