On Saturday night, the Mavs faced one of their most difficult nights of the season, welcoming Kristaps Porzingis back into the lineup, as they went against one of the NBA's top teams in the Brooklyn Nets.
While the Nets were indeed shorthanded, missing two of their three stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Dallas, as well as Porzingis, were able to make a statement, winning 115-98 in dominating fashion.
As is to be expected, Luka Doncic led the way for Dallas, scoring 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting, to go along with seven assists, six rebounds, and two steals. Doncic also earned some high praise from his superstar opponent James Harden.
"(Luka) never lets anyone speed him up, and he gets what he wants,” said Harden. “We all know he has a very, very bright future. The Mavs got a special one."
The biggest question of the night, however, surrounded the performance of Porzingis, who after missing the last four games, has been the center of Mavs trade speculation as of late.
Porzingis answered those questions on Saturday, albeit temporarily, scoring 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and showing a type of tenacity and aggressiveness that he had seldom shown in the 2021 season.
“KP was terrific,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He had good bounce, he had surprisingly good rhythm for a guy that hadn’t played in 10 days. ... His rim protection and defense was the best that it’s been all year. It just shows the amount of work that he’s been putting in over the last 10 or 11 days.”
The result of that tenacity and aggressiveness spread far beyond Porzingis himself as well, with seemingly the entire Mavs rotation showing up and asserting their dominance over the Nets.
As a team, Dallas shot 52.3 percent from the floor and had six players finish the game with double figures, including 14 points from Jalen Brunson, 13 from Tim Hardaway Jr., 12 from Dorian Finney-Smith, and 11 from Josh Richardson.
Finney-Smith also chased around Harden all night, and while the Nets star scored 29, he was slowed somewhat in the second half.
“I just tried to make it hard for (Harden),'' said Finney-Smith, who won the "heavyweight belt'' for his work. "I felt like everybody on the team did a good job of rotating and making it tough for him.”
The win, which officially pulled the Mavs back to the .500 mark, was their seventh in their last nine outings and moving them just a game and a half behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth seed in the Western conference playoff standings.
The Mavs will be back in action on Monday night when they travel to Orlando to take on the Magic at the Amway Center. It will be the second matchup of the season between the two teams, with Dallas running away with a 112-98 win in their first meeting.
It will mark another chance for Luka (who turned 22 on Sunday) to shine ... and another chance for Porzingis to justify Dallas' $158 million of faith in him.
“We love KP,” Carlisle said. “He’s just a very unique player. I’ve never seen a 7-3 guy does what he does, and tonight it was all on display and it’s great to see.''
CONTINUE READING: Mavs Trade? Porzingis Reveals Thoughts, Gives Injury Update