Mavs Monday Midseason Donuts: Maxi On The Phone, Porzingis in Vegas
DONUT 1: Mavericks 120, Trailblazers 112
Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks is one of the only guys in the NBA right now who can have an amazing night - and still seem like he probably didn’t play his best game.
Lately, Luka has struggled from three, so he’s started abandoning the shot earlier, and driving to the basket. Against Portland over the weekend he flipped this script entirely. Thanks to the shot-blocking of Hassan Whiteside, Luka couldn’t finish his interior plays early in the game, and the Mavs spent most of the first quarter trailing because of it. So, Luka went to work from the perimeter on route to a career-high 8 three-pointers on twelve attempts. Tim Hardaway Jr. added a huge 29 points, and the Blazers were without C.J. McCollum for the entire second half, helping the Mavs even up the season series with Portland at 1-1.
It’s worth mentioning that Carmelo Anthony had a 22-point night, and the first five of those got him to 26,000 points for his career. Whether you’re a fan of Anthony or not, that’s a pretty solid achievement for a guy who had a recent chunk of his career stolen by circumstances widely out of his control. It’s also easier to appreciate because the Mavericks still got the W.
DONUT 2: Mid-Season Check-In
The Mavericks finished the first half of the season with 26 wins and 15 losses. That puts them on pace for a 52-30 finish if things play out the same in the second half of the season, and there’s reason to believe they could actually be better in the second half of the season.
Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t really shift into high gear until the Mavericks were 14-games into the season, so if they get the current version of THJ for the entire second half of the season that’s already an improvement. The team has also famously struggled to close out close games in the clutch, but they’re just as likely to luck into wins in some of those 50/50 situations going forward. They might also add another ball-handling wing or even more defense and shooting via trade (or buyout), nudging their overall talent up a little more.
They’ve already started the second half of the season 1-0 thanks to their win against Portland, putting them at 27 wins for the season. Not bad for a team that won a total of 33 games last year.
DONUT 3: Maxi, Get Off the Phone
The simple three fingers in the air is like the Classic Coke of celebrations. The wild bravado of Jason Terry’s “J.E.T. wings” celebration somehow made it work. The occasional Klay Thompson, “I’m-looking-at-my-hand-because-how-does-it-do-that,” move is pure and concentrated humble-brag in human skin.
But, there’s something off about this new Maxi Kleber “call me” gesture that he makes after every three, and the fact that his space work is off is only part of the problem. Look, I know that the Germans are sometimes behind the U.S. when it comes to certain pop-culture milestones, so maybe he hasn’t heard that Milli Vanilli was a hoax and that people don’t even use their phones to call people anymore. Maybe he doesn’t realize that telling a stranger to call him is the kind of thing greasy frat boys and used car salesmen do.
I like Maxi, and it looks like he’s going to make a lot more threes in his career. We already use our phones to look at cat memes and text people way more than we use them to make phone calls. Nobody at the game brought their landline with them. So, who is his target audience? Is Maxi a secret cougar chaser? Does he want grandmothers to call him? He should probably have someone text him, or slide into his DMs after a three, but assuming his career lasts another decade, he may want to consider some technological reference that isn’t already outdated.
Maxi’s new catchphrase for 2021 will be, “If you don’t know who I am, Bing me.”
DONUT 4: How do We Talk About Luka?
This past week is a lot like this entire season: Luka was amazing, and even his mistakes were mundane. Luka’s worst game all week still netted 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and a steal in only 27 minutes of a blowout. Do you know how many NBA players would be glad if that was their best game in a week?
He also managed a 25-point triple-double in which he had 15 rebounds and a career-high 17 assists. That 17-assist night was the first one for a Dallas Maverick player in about a decade. Against Portland, he had a career-high eight 3-pointers to round out a 35-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist, and one-steal evening. All three games were wins, and he didn’t even rip his jersey this week.
The only real complaint lately might be his lapses at the free-throw line, but I can’t tell if he’s struggling with form, focus, or fatigue. Whatever it is, that’s definitely one of the pillars of his game he needs to improve, especially if he starts getting more calls in his favor.
DONUT 5: NBA Trade Deadline
The NBA Trade Deadline is February 6 (just over two weeks away) and trade rumors are starting to pick up steam. Over the last few weeks, rumors have the Mavericks interested in Andre Drummond, Robert Covington, and even Jae Crowder.
In case you wonder where I stand, I am way out on Drummond (unless this is suddenly 2006 again), I’m a fan of Covington (but maybe not at his growing price), and I think Jae Crowder is an inefficient player who would be worse than almost anything the Mavericks would give up for him.
I don’t really know who I’d root for. Though Covington is a fine NBA player, Maxi Kleber and Finney-Smith already serve a role that’s very similar to the one Covington would play here. I still think the Mavericks would benefit more from a player who can handle the ball confidently when Luka is on the bench.
There’s also a solid argument for a player who offers the kind of offensive spacing and shot-blocking that Porzingis has, but as it turns out, he’s called a Unicorn for a reason. There just aren’t a lot of guys in the NBA who have that kind of size, that kind of shot-blocking, and that kind of offensive range. The ones that do exist aren’t likely on the trade block. A guy like Kevin Love (tantrums aside) could provide a replacement for Porzingis’ offensive spacing and size, but Kevin has never been the kind of defender Porzingis is, and that’s what the team is missing most in his absence.
What I know for sure is that I’m no longer interested in trading Tim Hardaway Jr. unless the return is something astronomical. His presence has been invaluable for both the Mavericks as a team, and for Luka as a floor general. What a difference 28 good games can make in the trajectory of a player’s career.
DONUT 6: Mid-Season Roundtable
Everybody here at DallasBasketball.com got together to grade the Mavericks on their first-half successes and failures. We also gave our thoughts on which player graded best over the first 41 games, and which player graded out worst. You can read the entire article later today, but I wanted to use this space to give special attention to a couple of players I didn’t talk about with the group.
First, I want to give huge praise to Tim Hardaway Jr., who has transformed himself into the kind of player that I trust when he’s on the floor. His success over the last 28 games has turned the trade with the Knicks into something even more lopsided than it already appeared (with respect to the fact that Porzingis is nursing that injury).
Second, I want to level some criticism at Delon Wright. At times, he’s been exactly as advertised. He’s versatile, he can drive, he can pass, he can shoot, and he can defend. But, despite the canvas to make a bigger impact this season, he’s not really taken that leap that we expected. I’m still glad to have him on the team, and I trust him more than several guys in the rotation, but I expected to love his game without reservation, and I simply don’t.
DONUT 7: Porzingis Watch - Day 22
Mark Cuban says Kristaps Porzingis is, “all good,” and he tells us that what matters is that it’s not his left knee. Maybe. But as we head into the second half of the NBA season, what we have is a guy with a lot of lower-body injury history dealing with a lower-body injury. We have a “not-that-big-a-deal” injury keeping a guy out for ten games in a row and counting. It’s an injury that, if we’re to believe everyone talking to us about it, they can’t quite identify. X-rays were negative, they’ve treated it with both time and injections. Still, the unexplained soreness persists, and the unexpected glitches continue.
The latest glitch, and also the latest exclamation point on our concerns, was a false start going into the Kings’ game. He was excited to play, he warmed up for fifteen minutes, and then his “not-left-knee” kept him out of another game. He didn’t even attempt to warm-up against the Blazers.
How do the Mavericks and Kristaps move forward with an injury that doesn’t seem to have an explanation? How long do they wait before they contemplate something more aggressive? The longer they wait, especially if it’s more serious than they’re letting on, the less likely it is that KP is available for the playoffs. But, if this is just some sort of fluke, maybe we’ll forget all about it 15 games from now when he’s back in the paint, blocking shots.
The Mavs have a Monday practice. We will monitor.
DONUT 8: Strategic Time Off for Luka
Tired legs and winded lungs might have had a lot to do with Luka’s late-game struggles in December and early January. Some of that is having the dude play entire quarters before getting any rest. The Mavericks have finally wised up to both the metrics and the eye-test so they’re getting him rest way sooner and way more often. If you’ll take a look at the recent box scores, you’ll see that he’s responded well to the new arrangement.
There’s also a sneaky way that Luka’s been getting rest while he’s on the court. Keep a close eye on the game and you’ll see that once in a while Luka will communicate to Wright, Brunson, or Tim Hardaway Jr., and then they, instead of Luka, will bring the ball up the floor and run the offense for a full set or two. ... Just enough to let Luka create spacing and catch his breath.
What’s great about this is that it cannot go unnoticed by opposing teams, who are so geared up to stop Luka, so once in a while, when you think he’s taking the play off, he’ll suddenly cut baseline, sneak behind the defense, and loop outside for a catch-and-shoot three.
DONUT 9: A Little Clutch Success
It’s only a small breath of fresh air, but after clutch-time losses to the Kings, Heat, Raptors, Thunder, Hornets, and Nuggets, the Mavericks have found a tiny sliver of hope. After beating both the Kings and the Blazers, they’ve brought their frustrating clutch-game record up to 10-12 and avenged two of their clutch-time losses in the process.
DONUT 10: What Happens in Vegas
There are some (not-so-bright) NBA fans who are losing their minds because Kristaps Porzingis flew to Vegas to watch McGregor fight Cowboy in UFC 246. Apparently, because he’s had a nagging knee injury, he’s not allowed to do anything semi-recreational. Knowing, as we do, that sitting down to watch a sporting event is how all of these guys tweak their knee injuries.
Just imagine how frustrated some of these fans will be when they find out how many NBA games Porzingis has been courtside for over the last three weeks. The wear and tear from sitting still and watching professional basketball is clearly the cause for his recent knee soreness, and his unrepentant sitting at the UFC event is bound to aggravate it further.
Look, the Mavericks had three days off between games. He did not jog to Vegas, he flew there (probably more comfortably than most of us sit on a couch). He did not participate in the fight (which is a pleasant change of pace for Porzingis during time off), he only watched it. Sometimes, the best ways we can heal is to take some time away, rest, relax, and do something that brings you joy. It’s how you get your mind and body right.
Ya’ll need to chill.
DONUT 11: What’s On Tap
The Mavericks have their work cut out for them on Tuesday when they host the Clippers at the AAC. The last time the two teams played one another the Mavericks looked outmatched, and that was with Porzingis and Luka both in the lineup. Hardaway Jr. was starting by then, but he’d still not found game-to-game consistency. Luka had one of his worst shooting nights, going 4-of-14 from the floor and missing all 8 of his three-point attempts. He also turned the ball over 7 times en route to a 114-99 loss at home.
The Clippers have had a little bit of locker-room strife that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. They’re 30-13 this season despite starting without Paul George and resting Leonard regularly to keep him healthy. Only two teams, the Lakers and the Bucks have more wins than the Clippers. The major point of strife for the team seems to be external. A bunch of sportswriters started calling them a great team before they’d done anything and they’re being measured against those expectations, rather than against their clear improvement from last year.
Despite that, they’re still 7-3 over their last 10 games (including their current 5-1 stretch), and Kawhi is averaging 29 points, five rebounds, and five assists over his last ten games. Paul George has struggled with his shot over the last month, and he’s likely out for the game against the Mavericks. Still, for the Mavericks (with Porzingis Watch on) to have a chance in this rematch, they’ll need Luka to go toe-to-toe against Leonard, especially in crunch time.
DONUT 12: The Final Word
“Amazing. I mean, he’s arguably the MVP right now. His team is winning, he’s dominating game after game. Great pace. He’s scoring, passing, rebounding. I think it just shows that he’s been playing pro for a long time. He’s a second-year player, but he’s not a second-year pro, and I think that’s pretty obvious.” Damian Lillard when asked about Luka’s progression from year one to year two.