Mavs Monday Donuts: Dallas Hits the Road in Search of Perspective (And A Couple of Wins)

Steven Kilpatrick

Can the Dallas Mavericks use their road success to get back on track in terms of NBA Contention? Monday Mavs Donuts examines ...

DONUT 1: Mavericks 109, 76ers 91

The Mavericks, despite a 4-of-15 night from Luka Dončić, got their 24th win of the season against a short-handed 76ers team. The 76ers have been almost as inconsistent as the Mavericks lately, going 2-5 over their last seven games.

The Mavericks were still without the injured Kristaps Porzingis, but they caught a break because of the absence of Joel Embiid on the other side. The Mavericks potent offense was held to a season-low 41-points in the first half, but the second half belonged entirely to Dallas.

You can read Matt Galatzan's game story here.

DONUT 2: Porzingis on the Mend?

Kristaps Porzingis has started participating in warmups for the world to see, and he seems to have plenty of bounce in his step. That still hasn’t translated into playing time.

Porzingis has missed the last seven games, the Mavs have gone 3-4 with him out, and their interior defense has been a mess. Since the last time I wrote about my worries, reports surfaced that KP was given a platelet-rich-plasma injection in his right knee as part of his treatment.

I keep singing the “overly-cautious” theme song in my head, but any time a needle goes into someone’s knee, especially a guy with previous knee issues, I get queasy.

DONUT 3: Don’t Let Losing Streaks Become Lost Perspective

The Mavericks only lost back-to-back games once over their first 31-games of the season. In this recent eight-game stretch they’ve gone 3-5 and dropped back-to-back games twice.

On the bright side, they’ve been competitive in most of those games, and they’ve still avoided the ignominious three-game-skid. Yes, I know it’s easy to whine about the Mavericks' struggles right now, but their last three losses are to the top two teams in the West.

In contrast, by the midway mark of the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Mavs already had 22 losses, and they’d had losing streaks of three, six, and six. So let’s be sure to keep all these negative vibes in perspective.

DONUT 4: Finney-Smith’s Unforced Errors

I’m an unapologetic Dorian Finney-Smith fan. Even before he became an offensive rebounding phenom, I loved him for his tenacity on the defensive end of the floor, and his always-improving shooting. That makes it frustrating to talk about his trend of weird unforced errors.

His court-awareness is sometimes like a sixth sense, so it’s strange how often he turns the ball over by starting his offensive sets out-of-bounds. It feels like Finney-Smith is good for at least one of these turnovers per game, which is unacceptable. 

This isn’t baseball. The court dimensions don’t change from city to city. He’s got to figure this out.

My frustrations with this, of course, come courtesy of the final moments of the Mavericks’ loss to the Nuggets. In crunch time we saw Dorian catch a pass out-of-bounds twice, and we also saw him throw the ball away on the final possession instead of getting a shot off. 

We’ve been complimenting Finney-Smith for being ready to shoot this season, but we may need to ease off. Being ready to shoot isn’t just about being more fearless when you catch the ball. Being ready also has to include both court-awareness and clock-awareness.

DONUT 5: Luka Dončić, Jersey Boy

I’ve talked a lot about Luka’s emotional outbursts. He wears all of his feelings on his sleeves. When things are going well, and he’s having fun, that transparency is infectious. It makes the game more fun to watch, it makes the game beautiful. But, when that emotion is negative, it can suck the joy right out of the AAC.

Something Dončić has done multiple times this year is get so angry at a missed call, or a missed free-throw, that he rips his jersey in frustration. I get it. When I was in my teens and 20's I wanted to toss my Playstation controller during a few intense games of NBA Live with my friends. When you’re playing the real thing, you can’t throw a controller (though if you’re Kevin Love you can throw the ball, a chair, or a fit). 

Luka’s essentially rage-quitting because of a missed shot. It’s something that might be funny one day, but only when that behavior is behind him.

My only hope is that he rips up enough of the Mavericks “City” jerseys that there aren’t any left for them to wear in games.

DONUT 6: Rick Carlisle is Fed Up

If Luka likes to rip his Jersey, Rick Carlisle gave us the grown-up version of the same frustration. After the Mavericks inbounded the basketball against the Lakers (or seemed to), the officials whistled the play dead, allowed what looked like a very late Lakers’ challenge, and served as the tipping point for coach Carlisle’s patience.

He’s been more and more vocal lately about his frustrations with officiating, and this moment all of those frustrations boiled over. He drew his second technical and got ejected from the game. On the way out, he carefully took his jacket off, then made a face of disgust and waved dismissively at the officials as he left the court.

It makes you wonder if he took his jacket off so that he wouldn’t be tempted to mimic his young star, and rip the thing in half.

DONUT 7: Welcome Back Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Mavericks are 2-2 since Tim Hardaway Jr. returned to the lineup, and they were a single possession away from 3-1. It’s easy to dismiss how much the Mavericks missed Hardaway Jr.’s shooting during the short stretch he was out because he was so inconsistent to start the season.

In the four games since his return, he’s shooting 47.8 percent, 45.8 percent from three-point range, and he’s averaging 16 points, five rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Over his last ten games, he’s shooting 50 percent from both the field and from three-point range.

Numbers like that might have gone a long way to tipping the balance in the overtime loss to the Hornets, or the collapse against the Thunder. Plus, it’s one more reminder that when Porzingis gets back, this team has an entirely different dynamic.

If the injuries to key players have done anything, hopefully, it’s helped more casual fans appreciate what these guys bring to the team, even if it’s not what those fans pictured in the offseason.

DONUT 8: Dwight Powell’s Weird Season

I don’t always know what to make of Dwight Powell. Despite the absence of Anthony Davis on Friday, Powell seemed to vanish in his 26 minutes on the floor against the Lakers. He had seven points and four rebounds in a game where the Mavs really needed him to show up.

Against the Hornets, on January 1, he played 38 minutes, and only had 11 points and seven rebounds before fouling out. He also missed key free throws that might have kept the game from going to overtime.

But then you have the Dwight Powell who scored 16 and grabbed seven rebounds against Chicago without missing a shot. You have the Dwight Powell who had 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and a steal in a close loss to a very good Denver team. Against Philly, Dwight scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds in 35 minutes. ... and got to be the Player of the Game, despite THJ's playful interference. (See story here.)

It’s very clear that Powell is a quality player, and there are even nights when he plays inspirational basketball. But he has to find consistency, and he has to work on his free-throw shooting. It’s tough when one of your most dynamic big men becomes a liability in crunch time because he only makes 65 percent of his free throws and 24 percent of his threes.

DONUT 9: NBA and Australians Unite

During the matchup between the Mavericks and 76ers, Australian-born players Ryan Broekhoff, Ben Simmons, and Jonah Bolden spent some time drawing awareness to the fires in Australia.

Said Broekhoff in addressing the audience:

“Fires have been ravaging our beautiful home of Australia, and we’ve come together, as well as the other Australian-born NBA players, to do our part to donate. To help families restart and rebuild after losing everything. Some 25 people have perished. Thousands of homes lost. Over half-a-billion animals have been killed ... some 17-million acres have been burned.''

The Mavs, the 76ers, and the NBA Players Association have all made donations to help Australians rebuild. If you’d like to contribute, please visit the Australian NBA Players Bushfire Relief Fund. 

DONUT 10: On the Road

The Mavericks are about to play six of their next nine games on the road. For a struggling team, that would usually seem like a brutal stretch, but for this team, it might be exactly what they need.

The Mavericks are 12-10 at home this season, but they’re 12-5 on the road. Maybe a little crowd-animosity is just what the doctor ordered to get the Mavericks back on track. There aren’t a lot of easy victories on the horizon, but there are plenty of beatable teams if the Mavericks can rediscover some of their swagger to close out January.

DONUT 11: What’s Next?

The Mavericks head to San Francisco to take on the Golden State Warriors for the third time this season. I wouldn’t be shocked if Kristaps sits this one out, even if he’s ready because the Mavericks have had their way with the Warriors so far this season.

The Mavericks won their first meeting 142-94, and their second meeting 141-121. Their starters wound up napping through the fourth quarters of both games.

This feels like the kind of game where Kristaps might get a rest even if he weren’t nursing a sore knee, especially as chippy as the last meeting between these teams got last month. It’s hard to be confident lately, but I feel mostly confident that the Mavericks will win this one.

DONUT 12: The Final Word