Kristaps Porzingis made his 2020-21 season debut on Wednesday night, helping lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 104-93 road win over the Charlotte Hornets, and extending their win streak to four games.
And Luka Doncic offered up a different sort of "key.''
After missing the first nine games of the season while finishing his recovery from offseason knee surgery, the much-awaited return of Porzingis went as expected, with Dallas handily defeating a young Hornets squad, thanks in part to 16 points in 21 minutes from the 7-3 Latvian.
Porzingis also added four rebounds and two blocks, while hitting 6-of-16 from the floor.
However, while Porzingis was indeed solid in his season debut, it was once again Doncic who stole the show for Dallas, finishing with a seemingly effortless stat line of 34 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, four blocks, and two steals. Doncic’s attention to detail on the defensive end of the floor has given the entire Mavs team a boost this season.
"The way you win championships is with defense,” said Doncic. “You gotta be the best on the defensive end. If you don't have defense, you're not going to achieve anything. That's why everybody is willing to play defense and sacrifice.
"That’s the key to our team.”
Doncic, who currently sits as the betting favorite to take home this year's MVP award, is now averaging 29.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 10.3 assists in the month of December, with no signs of slowing down.
The shorthanded Mavs, who were missing five key contributors, including two starters in Josh Richardson and Maxi Kleber, were also supplemented in their scoring outburst by Tim Hardaway Jr, who scored 18 points in his return to the starting lineup.
As a team, Dallas hit 41.7 percent from the floor, and 32.6 percent from three, while also edging the Hornets in the rebounding battle 54-53 thanks in part to a 14-rebound effort from Willie Cauley-Stein.
Dallas also allowed Charlotte to hit just 38-percent from the floor on the other end, including just 26-percent from beyond the arc. Terry Rozier led the way for the Hornets with 18 points, while P.J. Washington and Gordon Hayward each finished with 16 of their own.
Now riding a four-game win streak, Dallas will continue their road trip on Friday night, when they travel to Milwaukee to take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks at the Fiserv Forum. It will be the first matchup of the season between the two teams.
It will also be another chance for Dallas to show itself ... on both ends.
“The numbers don’t lie,'' said coach Rick Carlisle, who recorded his 800th NBA win. "When we have the grit and we focus defensively, we take our game to another level. The best players set the tone. When Luka and KP are invested in the importance of defense, everybody just falls in line.”