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'Great Chemistry' of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving Duo Key to Mavs Playoffs Push

Mavs superstars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving benefit from "great chemistry" alongside each other during an extended run of games.

DALLAS — After defeating the Denver Nuggets with a final score of 107-105 on Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Mavericks improved to 39-29. It marked the 40th time this season that Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have played together, improving to a record of 25-15 when both are in the lineup. 

Irving's performance against the Nuggets was highlighted by a game-winning, left-handed floater from over 20 feet away from the basket while driving to his left despite shooting over Nikola Jokic's outstretched arm at the buzzer. Overall, Irving totaled 24 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds, flanking Doncic, who scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his performance. 

“I think it’s a really big win. You know going against the Nuggets, they were champions last year," Doncic said. "They have an amazing team, they have the MVP, it’s tough to play against them. So, it’s really good for us.”

Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Recently, Doncic and Irving played 17 consecutive games in the lineup together, dating back to Irving's February 5 return from a right thumb sprain. The streak ended with Doncic missing Thursday's loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Dallas has gone 13-5 with Doncic and Irving in the lineup since Irving's injury return. 

During this 18-game stretch, the Mavs have achieved impressive results with their superstars sharing the floor. In those 483 minutes, Dallas has produced a 122.0 offensive rating and a 112.0 defensive rating, resulting in a 10.0 net rating, while serving as the team's most-used two-man lineup combination. Among all 63 two-man combinations with 400 or more minutes played during this span, the Mavs' superstar duo ranks eighth in net rating, trailing only pairings from the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets. 

Before this 18-game sample size began on February 5, Doncic and Irving were the team's 13th most used pairing, as injuries limited their time on the floor together. Dallas produced lesser results during 22 previous games, with a 118.5 offensive rating, a 114.4 defensive rating, and a 4.0 net rating in the 506 minutes they played together. It just shows the continued growth achieved alongside each other. 

Given how eager commentators are to discuss the viability of the pairing, Irving continued to express his confidence amid ongoing success. Irving went as far as to describe his pairing with Doncic as having "great chemistry" while highlighting the value gained by having more practice reps as they spend more time together.

"Looks good, right? Now that we have a sample size, everybody could judge off of it instead of like every other game," Irving said. “It feels good to be able to play those amount of consistent games and get a feel for one another. [It] really shows what we’ve been working on in practice too. You guys don’t get a chance to see all our practices, it’s me and Luka playing against our second five. We got a great chemistry and when we got guys making shots alongside of us, it makes it a lot easier.”

From an offensive standpoint, this duo has always worked. Doncic and Irving are electrifying pick-and-roll and isolation scorers who can utilize many different half-court actions. As two dynamic perimeter shot creators with excellent finishing ability, short/mid-range prowess, Doncic's transcendent passing talent, and Irving's motion shooting proficiency, there are countless options when they share the court. 

The Mavs continued to build on their half-court as they gained continuity, leveraging their superstars more as screeners, whether in part of double screener actions (double drag or Stack pick-and-roll), handoff actions (mostly Zoom) or just the simple two-man game, both superstars are willing screeners and unselfish players.  

As with any duo, the two superstars needed some time to build chemistry with handling late-game situations since only one player can initiate a possession with the basketball. Significant progress has been achieved, with Dallas holding the NBA's best clutch game-winning percentage (.704). The latest clutch victory occurred with Doncic hitting a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer off an inbounds pass, followed by a continuation of the same set leading to Irving's game-winning floater.

Another element has been Doncic's embrace of the Mavs' Irving-inspired emphasis to play faster, along with a dedication to work on his catch-and-shoot jumper in preparation to spend more time off-ball. They have succeeded after going from being one of the NBA's slowest teams to pushing whenever possible, even with Doncic doing a combination of attacking as the ball handler, making a quick throw-ahead pass, or as a trailer. Even this far in the season, Dallas ranks ninth in pace and seventh in fastbreak points per game, while Doncic has produced improved catch-and-shoot efficiency on greater volume. 

Doncic's focus on carrying over his conditioning from the FIBA World Cup after leading the Slovenian national team to a best-ever seventh-ranked finish with competition that took place in Okinawa and Manila. His efforts include working with a personal team of experts to maximize his diet and continued work on his body. Meanwhile, Irving has managed to avoid injuries since struggling to do so in December and January. 

The Mavs' limitations since last season include an inconsistent ability to defend sufficiently as a team and an over-reliance on 3-point shooting. After adding Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington, the team has shown they can defend at a higher level when focused while also overcoming poor shooting, as they did against the Nuggets. Denver dominated Dallas in the paint in two matchups earlier this season, but the opposite happened on Sunday. 

As the Mavs remain amid a playoff push, Dallas ranks seventh in the Western Conference standings with a 39-29 record and the second-easest remaining strength of schedule in the NBA. It remains to be seen how consistent the Mavs will ultimately be defensively during the season's stretch run. Regardless, the duo of Doncic and Irving allows them to defeat any opponent in the NBA as long as defensive execution is sufficient.