Monday's result: Dallas Mavericks 130, Orlando Magic 124 ... and we've got Mavs Donuts ...
DONUT 1: RIM RATTLER You know – or at least have a pretty good idea – it’s going to be your night when a wild, bad pass turns into a basket, with an assist from the underside of the rim.
Tim Hardaway Jr. drove baseline, jumped in the air and then, well, panicked.
With no one open, he rifled a pass that caromed off the bottom of the rim and took a squirrelly carom right into the hands of Trey Burke. It somehow became an assist, as Burke made a 12-foot jumper that helped the Mavs turn a four-point deficit after the first quarter into a halftime lead and control of the game.
DONUT 2: BETTER LATE THAN NEVER Kristaps Porzingis had one of those first halves. Not really engaged. Basically invisible. Only two points.
But in the second, he hit a 3-pointer on his first touch and proceeded to have one of those halves.
He blocked shots. He rebounded. He dunked. He passed up good shots to find teammates with even better shots. He effortlessly stroked 3-pointers.
When Porzingis (17 points, 15 after halftime, and 10 rebounds) plays like that, the Mavs are difficult to deal with.
“Whenever we see a guy like KP make shots, that given us energy,” said Jalen Brunson, who scored 24 himself. “Obviously, he’s very important to this team. Just to see him hit a couple shots and try to get his rhythm back, which he will . . . we have his back.''
Also worth mentioning from the frontcourt: Maxi Kleber, "belt'' winner.
DONUT 3: FAMILIAR FAROUQ FACE Good to see old friend Al-Farouq Aminu on the court again.
Back in 2014-15, the Mavs thought Aminu might someday blossom into, oh I dunno, Josh Richardson. Lanky. Athletic. Superior defender. But before he was ripe, the Blazers offered him a four-year, $30 million contract. Aminu became a key player in Portland’s 2016 run to the Western Conference semifinals, putting up 30-point playoff games against both the Clippers and Warriors. After signing with the Magic, he suffered a knee injury that limited him to 18 games in 2020.
Having played only eight games, Aminu is just rounding into shape. Good guy. Good player. Good memories.
DONUT 4: 4 x 1 = 0 Late in the third quarter the Mavs did the (almost) impossible, orchestrated by the improbable. A Magic turnover and a run-out gave the ball to Jalen Brunson with only Chuma Okeke back on defense for Orlando. Trailing Brunson were Luka Doncic, Maxi Kleber and Hardaway Jr. Brunson dribbled to the left side of the lane and dropped a pass to Luka in the middle for the easy … turnover? Doncic actually got too cute, passing up an uncontested layup or a simple assist to Hardaway Jr. for a one-hand, no-look, drop-behind pass intended for Kleber, who had stopped at the top of the key to spectate on what he – and the rest of us – figured would be a Mavs’ basket.
On the ensuing possession, Luka lost his shoe on a drive and played the last three possessions of the third in only a sock. Not exactly Jason Witten galloping in Philadelphia without a helmet, but not bad.
DONUT 5: GO WEST, YOUNG MEN The Mavs play their next nine games against the Western Conference, which is always a dicey proposition. Against the West they are 8-10. After this win, they are 9-6 against the East.
DONUT 6: BEYOND THE BUBBLE First time the Mavs have been back in Orlando in six months, since losing Game 6 of their playoff series to the Clippers on August 30. The stakes weren’t quite as high Monday night, but the result was much better.
DONUT 7: WIN TEN 10 When Doncic followed a step-back 3-pointer with a hesitation dribble and layup, the Mavs’ chances skyrocketed. Why? Because it pushed their lead to 83-71 and this season they were 14-2 when leading by 10+ points. Make it 15-2.
DONUT 8: MAGIC POTION The Mavs swept the season series from Orlando, winning by 14 in Dallas on Jan. 9 and by six here in the Magic Kingdom. Chances are extremely rare that Dallas would face the Magic again, because that would be in the NBA Finals. But if it happens, Mavs would be heavy favorites.
DONUT 9: CARD SHARK Add another “first” to Luka’s resume. His one-of-a-kind rookie card was sold this week for a record $4.6 million, the highest price ever for a basketball card.
See more about this in Fish's game story, below.
And you thought J.J. Watt to the Cards was eye-popping.
DONUT 10: BAD GONE FOR GOOD Remember when the Mavs went 2-9 to end January? Me neither. Because all the sudden – with a jolt from a full roster no longer compromised by COVID – they have won seven of nine and are playing their best basketball of the season.
Said coach Rick Carlisle on that subject: "We're much better when we're not directly dealing by COVID."
DONUT 11: OLD MAN WALKING Not the turning of the calendar to March nor turning the age of 22 can deter Doncic. He produced 33 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and the step-back 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 126-115 and sealed the deal in the final two minutes.
James Harden was right: He’s a “special one.”
Carlisle is right, too: "This guy defies a lot of logic when it comes to conventional coaching theories. That's why we give him the ball and let him go.''
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD In a game they had to win, the Mavs won. If you’re going to be a serious contender, you must beat 13-21 teams. The reward? Dallas is 17-16, finally over .500 for the first time since it was 8-7 on Jan. 22.
To win a championship you must first make the playoffs. To make the playoffs you must first get above .500. Small steps.
“The guys have grown together (through) our struggles and adversities,'' Carlisle said, "and it’s made us stronger. We’re still not perfect. We still have conflicts here and there that happen. But as a group, these guys respect each other and they’re playing a really excellent brand of basketball the last 10 games. So, there’s good signs.”