Photo Courtesy of NBA.com
The Dallas Mavericks are a Terry Stotts challenge and a Danny Green buzzer-beater (or Dwight Powell free-throw) away from starting the year 5-0.
This is the first year in almost a decade that I have been truly joyful and optimistic about the future of this basketball team. Coach Rick Carlisle seems to have all of the right pieces around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. In spite of a 3-2 start, the Mavericks look much better than Dallas could have hoped to.
As a fan, my heart hasn’t experienced that full-of-joy feeling since 2011 when Dallas won the NBA Finals. Last night against a competent Los Angeles Lakers team, that feeling was back. Here are five takeaways from the start of the season.
Luka is a bad man.
LeBron James had other inappropriate, yet endearing words for the young star at the end of Friday night, but we will keep this piece suitable for all readers. However, if you’re interested in what was actually said, feel free to watch here.
Doncic seems to have taken a couple of steps to be even better than last year by taking fewer shots of high-difficulty and distributing the ball like a formidable point guard. The Boy Wonder became the youngest player to have a triple-double with 15 assists as he battled LeBron James in the Mav’s fifth game of the season.
Although the game was lost in overtime, Mavs fans everywhere have so much to look forward to. LeBron and Luka went through a back-and-forth stretch during the fourth quarter that was extremely reminiscent of a playoff game. Both players were dialed in as they took turns dishin’ dimes and launchin’ bombs on their way to impressive triple-doubles.
Doncic is on his way to LeBron-like numbers with per-game averages of 26 points, eight assists, and 10 rebounds. I can already hear the “MVP” chants. Stay tuned.
The Mavs have looked inconsistent in closing out games this year.
In the first game of the year, Dallas was 20 points better than Washington for most of the contest but ended up in a close battle with the Wizards down the stretch. Dallas was outscored 32-17 in the fourth quarter as things got chippy between Doncic and Bradley Beal. It looked for a while as if Washington may even take control of the game, but the Dallas bench came through in the clutch and secured the W in the season-opener.
This up-and-down fourth quarter play continued through all five games. They were magnificent down the stretch versus a New Orleans Pelicans’ team that looked like they could not miss through three quarters. In their home-opener against the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas dominated most aspects of the game for three quarters by securing a 14-point lead and could not contain Damian Lillard in the waning minutes of the final period. This led to a disappointing two-point loss at home.
Again, in game four, Dallas overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter in Denver. This was mostly thanks to their bench (more on this later) who scored 61 points in that big road win against Jokic and Co.
Then there’s the Lakers (I don’t even like typing their name). Dallas, once again, looked like the much better team through most of the contest but failed to contain LeBron and Anthony Davis down the stretch. Despite the Doncic-James back-and-forth razzmatazz hop-skiddily doo, AD and the King proved to be too much for the Mavericks defense.
Hopefully, the Mavericks will fix line-up uncertainties that leave many Maverick fans scratching their heads and be able to capitalize on late-game leads. If there is any coach capable of fixing such issues, it’s Rick Carlisle.
The Mavericks’ bench is DEEEEP!
AS aforementioned, they scored 61 points in the win against the Nuggets and were the main reason in which Dallas was able to keep things close as Luka and Porzingis struggled the entire game.
Players like Boban Marjonavic, Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Seth Curry have among the best +/- ratings on the team as they continue to outscore opponents’ benches and gain big leads. Carlisle has yet to find the starting lineup that works best for the Mavericks, but it seems as if he’s getting closer. Dallas has rolled out a different starting five in each of their five games to start the season.
Regardless of who comes off the bench, the role players have been able to hold down the fort successfully versus each opponent.
Kristaps clearly has the potential but is still a bit rusty.
Porzingis is looking confident in his jumper but is only connecting on just over 41 percent from the field. His three-point percentage thus far is only at 33.3 percent; down from 39.5 percent in the last year he played.
Rick Carlisle commented after the Mavericks lost to the Lakers on Friday night saying, “I have to do a better job at getting (Porzingis) involved.” Kristaps started the first quarter knocking down three shots on four attempts. Ensuing foul trouble drew him to the bench and KP never looked the same throughout the rest of the contest, failing to find his stroke again.
It will clearly take some time for Porzingis to completely knock the rust off. The hopeful part of all this is that Dallas is now approaching a four-game stretch of very winnable games that will allow Porzingis to flourish on both ends of the court.
He did have a beautiful crossover and three-pointer against Anthony Davis though.
The Mavs look like a true playoff team.
Granted, I’d love for the Mavericks to be a perfect 5-0 today, Dallas has clearly made strides as a team in comparison to the last three to four years. Dallas’ losses to Portland and LA both could have gone the other way with just a bit more execution down the stretch, as I’ve already stated.
The next four games for Dallas are games that you’d expect a playoff-caliber team in the Western Conference to win. They’ll have contests against Cleveland, Orlando, New York, and Memphis; all in which Dallas should feel optimistic about before heading into a good matchup at TD Garden against the new-look Celtics.
If Rick Carlisle expects this group to have a shot at playing in April and May, his team must be able to pull out victories against inferior teams. The West appears to be stacked, and even an eight-seed will go to a competitive squad this year.
The Mavericks will travel to Cleveland to play the Cavaliers on Sunday night. The last time Luka Doncic played at Quicken Loans Arena, the youngster totaled 35 points, 11 rebounds, dished out 6 assists and shot 52-percent from the field.