Dallas Mavs Bubble Donuts, in which we scrutinize the amazing Luka Doncic and guess at how he'll successfully navigate the detours on the way to his NBA title ...
DONUT 1: DIRK'S DELAY Luka Doncic is trying to go where Dirk Nowitzki went with the Dallas Mavericks.
Ultimately, to an NBA championship. First, around an unforeseen detour.
Nowitzki’s rookie season in 1998-99 was delayed and finally significantly altered by an NBA lockout. The dysfunction between players and owners lasted 204 days, erasing training camp, canceling the All-Star Game, pushing Opening Night into February and shortening the schedule to 50 games.
DONUT 2: AND THE SLOVENIAN SENSATION ... Doncic’s sensational sophomore season is experiencing a similar pothole. When we last saw him and the Mavericks, they were whipping the Denver Nuggets to improve to 40-27 on March 11.
Then came youknowwhat-19. By the time the Mavs re-launch their 2020 season July 31 against the Houston Rockets, it will be 142 days between games.
For a team saturated with weapons and belief, better late than never.
DONUT 3: M.V.P.! In an already legendary, globe-trotting career, the 21-year-old Doncic has dominated in his native Slovenia, in Spain and, yes, the NBA, winning Rookie of the Year in 2019. There is nothing to suggest he won’t be one of the best players leading one of the most dangerous teams inside Orlando’s “Bubble.”
In fact, Luka is likely to register a top-four finish in NBA MVP voting.
“I can certainly sense that he’s sensing that we’re getting closer to that,” Mavs’ head coach Rick Carlisle said after watching his team practice for a couple weeks at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort. “I continue to see him raising the level of his game in all areas and refining his game in all areas and going really hard. When the best players go hard in practice, the whole team goes hard. That’s one reason we’ve had really terrific practices here from start to now.”
DONUT 4: THE LONG-SHOTS In this irregular season that will re-launch with the beginning of the end, the Mavs have title hopes thanks to a unique player groomed to succeed in the most unusual basketball climates. Inside The Bubble there will be no fans. No homecourt advantage. No template for reference. No history. No future. Only the present.
The Mavs are currently 40/1 long-shots to win the championship, 11-best odds in the league. But there are reasons to believe.
Mysteriously mediocre, Dallas was only 19-15 at AT&T Center this season. But in an environment that will make every team feel like visitors, the Mavs bring in 21 road wins (in the Western Conference only the Los Angeles Lakers have more) and the league’s best away-from-home offensive efficiency.
DONUT 5: JOCKEYING UP During their eight seeding games in 14 days starting next Friday, the Mavs will play seven West teams (they face the East-best Milwaukee Bucks Aug. 8), attempt to pass the Rockets for the Southwest Division title and jockey for an improved, more favorable first-round playoff matchup against the likely No. 3 seed Denver Nuggets. The Mavs have beaten the Nuggets twice this season.
Despite the unprecedented logistics, the NBA is structuring a biosphere that ‘s reminding players of AAU or college holiday tournaments. Neutral courts. Make-your-own atmosphere. At its core, however, the 2020 NBA Playoffs will be wholly recognizable, with four best-of-seven rounds.
And will, after all, be basketball. ...
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DONUT 6: MAVS TEMPO ... The kind of basketball, some believe, that will favor the Mavs’ run-and-gun tempo.
“There’s no 1, 2, 3 positions anymore,” said veteran guard J.J. Barea. “Everybody’s going to be spread out. It’s going to be a pick and roll, drive and kick and hit threes. It’s going to be random basketball and the team that does it best is going to have a great chance.”
In a bastardized year that includes a “snitch line” and a trophy to be hoisted in October, Doncic is the perfect leader for an imperfect ecosystem. In Orlando practices he’s kicked in shots from half-court. He’s made H-O-R-S-E shots off ceiling beams. He’s led his teammates fishing, golfing and even playing Spikeball.
While the rest of the world is having no trouble finding reasons to throw itself a pity party, Doncic – in the center of a pandemic hot spot – is still the kid playing his favorite game.
DONUT 7: QUOTABLE ""We just want to win as many games as possible, go in there without pressure, have fun and reach our goal. Play fun basketball and just keep playing together.'' - Doncic.
DONUT 8: THE BACKSTORY You know his story. First played organized basketball at age seven. At eight, began playing against 14-year-olds. By 12, he was a childhood prodigy, winning championships and international attention with a rare blend of joyous enthusiasm and cutthroat mentality. At 13, he scored 54 points and won MVP of a tournament against professionals in Spain.
Doncic’s DNA isn’t scared of no bubble.
DONUT 9: PRESSURE?! As he said earlier this year, "I live with 'pressure' every day. So, I just don't feel it anymore.''
DONUT 10: A 'TOP-??? PLAYER Again, this season he was/is in the MVP conversation, producing a league-leading 14 triple-doubles while averaging 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
ESPN recently ranked him as the seventh-best player in the bubble. Sports Illustrated ranked him at No. 1 in Orlando as well.
Now, given the four-month rest, he readies for the Mavs’ first playoff berth since 2016 with healed ankle, wrist and thumb injuries.
DONUT 11: THIS TAKES TIME, RIGHT? Nowitzki didn’t exactly dazzle in 1999 after the lockout, averaging only eight points as the Mavs missed the playoffs with a 19-31 record. But these Mavs will go as far as Doncic can take them.
“An intense desire to win,” Carlisle said in comparing the two players. “An intense desire to be a great teammate, and to be categorically a leader, but in his own way. Dirk was more of a quiet leader. Luka is emerging as more of a vocal leader than Dirk was.”
But Luka is the leader. Of a budding contender. That much is clear.
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD Dirk Nowitzki these days is parenting and donating his time and going camping and making Tik Tok videos with Steve Nash's daughters.
Luka Doncic – perhaps the best-prepared NBA player to handle The Bubble – is preparing to make history.