The Dallas Mavericks have punched their ticket to the postseason earlier this week courtesy of the struggling Memphis Grizzlies. It’s their first playoff berth since 2016 and first without Dirk Nowitzki since 1990.
With MVP candidate and rising superstar Luka Doncic on deck and another young All-Star calibre player in Kristaps Porzingis, the franchise may have officially built a new perennial, playoff-contending squad.
Or, maybe, they’ll be reminiscent of the 2000s Mavs, who kept squandering series leads and getting prematurely knocked out. You could call it pessimism, or it could simply be because to Doncic and company are giving people like me some reason to doubt.
The Mavericks won against the Sacramento Kings in overtime earlier today, 114-110. It was the second time in three games where they played an OT period, and Luka filled the stat sheet yet again, tallying 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists.
While the W is good and all, no one can be sure if that’s enough to wipe people’s memory on the choke jobs they just pulled. Let’s recap those two questionable performances.
Against the Houston Rockets
The Mavericks opened their restart with a Texas showdown versus the Houston Rockets. It pitted two of the game’s most skilled and best-scoring guards – Doncic and James Harden – so the fireworks just exploded right from the get-go.
Dallas enjoyed a high-scoring day from basically everyone. The halftime score was 85-75 in favour of the Mavs, and even before regulation ended, four guys were well over 20 points – Doncic, Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Trey Burke.
None of that was apparently enough, though, as the Mavs choked away a seven-point lead with only 40 seconds remaining. They kept sending Houston to the free-throw line, kept failing to answer back, and then, topped it all off by forgetting to box out Robert Covington on the worst possible time.
The Mavs looked tired in the overtime period and lost 153-149. Luka Doncic had a triple-double of 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists, but only scored five points in the fourth quarter and the extra frame. Dallas also wasted Porzingis’ season-high 39 points and 16 rebounds, as well as Burke’s impressive 31 points out of nowhere, which was also a personal high this season.
Defensively, they gave up 49 and 31 points to Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden actually ended the first quarter with 23 on a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor.
Against the Phoenix Suns
You would think the Mavericks would be more careful, disciplined, and poised against an inferior opponent. Wrong.
The Mavs established an early lead, creating a 12-point cushion at end of the first quarter and still holding it midway into the third quarter – the key word in there is “midway.”
With seven minutes remaining in the period, Dallas just fell apart on both ends of the floor. They shot 3-for-12 from the field and allowed an appalling 26-9 run despite Suns stars Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton both sitting down for the entirety of the stretch.
Their rhythm was out of whack for the final frame and it simply led to a 117-115 defeat. The second-half collapse had the Mavs shooting 1-for-18 from three.
On the good side were Doncic having a double-double of 40 points and 11 assists on 55% shooting and Porzingis recording his second-straight 30-plus point performance; but the bad was them failing to carry the team. Hardaway Jr., one of the secondary options behind the euro stars, was also terrible too, though, as he was 1-for-12 for two points in 29 minutes.
As for the defense, it was rough again. They surrendered 30 points to Booker, 20 to Ricky Rubio, and a double-double of 19 points and 12 boards to rookie Cameron Johnson – easily the best game of his young career.
The lack of playoff experience
The almost non-existent playoff experience within the Mavs’ main rotation is an added concern, and some glimpses of the near future may have been shown in those two losses.
Outside of JJ Barea, and maybe Seth Curry, who’s been to the postseason once, no one has actually played significant minutes on a marquee playoff series. Delon Wright was the main back-up point guard for the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors, but they got swept in the second-round; Tim Hardaway was a starter for the 2016-17 Atlanta Hawks, but that was a low-seeded, subpar playoff team; Boban Marjanovic and Trey Burke have 21 postseason games between them, but it’s only for a combined 167 minutes (7.9 per game).
After that, it’s an absolute zero – Doncic, Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Justin Jackson are all young players who are yet to taste playoff intensity and pressure.
For now, since the playoff spot is locked, the ugly chokes and other shortcomings are forgivable, but Mavs fans should sure hope the Doncic-Porzingis duo can become more imposing moving forward.