Mavs Monday Pre-NBA All-Star Donuts: Excitedly Waiting on Luka Doncic
Dallas Mavericks Monday Donuts with a look back at the weekend ... and an NBA All-Star Weekend glance ahead ...
DONUT 1: Mavericks 116, Hornets 100
The Dallas Mavericks on Saturday at Charlotte built a 31-point lead during the third quarter, so I’d love to tell you that this one wasn’t as close as it looks. But, these days every lead feels like a four-point lead when the Mavericks are involved. As the Mavs let their 31-point lead dwindle to 18, I got that familiar “No, not again” feeling in my stomach. I started willing the clock to move faster, to outpace Dallas’ superhuman ability to give away points.
They didn’t have time to give them all back, and they avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season.
Charlotte is a bad team and it was refreshing to see the Mavericks dominate them because that’s what good teams are supposed to do to bad teams. Obviously, that hasn’t happened as consistently for the Mavericks lately (including a couple of weird blowouts), so it’s worth appreciating. After all, the Hornets weren’t much better last time these two teams met, but that night it took a Mavericks’ miracle comeback just to force overtime (where they eventually lost).
DONUT 2: My Mistake
I have to remind myself that a soft schedule isn’t just about what you see in the Win/Loss column for a team—it’s also about context. Yeah, Memphis was 25-25 headed into their game last against the Mavericks, but they were also 12-3 in their last 15 games, and the Mavericks were missing Luka Dončić and Dwight Powell, all while trying to get Willie Cauley-Stein acclimated to a new offense.
I also didn’t expect the Washington Wizards to get an uncontested layup on the final possession of a one-point game, either. Still, the Mavericks did exact a little payback for their January 4 overtime loss to the Hornets, and they notched a quality win vs. a really good Pacers team.
Unpredictable, but not terrible.
I was hoping for 3-1 and they went 2-2. If they finished the season at .500 the rest of the way, the Mavericks would have 46 to 47 wins this year. Once Luka gets back, they should be able to nudge that trajectory back toward a 50-win campaign.
But, I’ve been wrong before.
DONUT 3: Porzingis is on Fire
Over his last four games, Kristaps is averaging 29 points, 11 rebounds, an assist, and 1.8 steals. He’s also hitting 41 percent of his three-point attempts, over 50 percent from the floor, and nearly 89 percent from the line.
He had a more pedestrian outing against the Wizards, but some of that came from a bad foul that got him in trouble (and probably could’ve been overturned if challenged). He was limited to 21 minutes because of the foul trouble, and there’s an argument that a few more minutes for Porzingis might have turned the tide in the Mavericks favor. He still managed 11 points, nine boards, two assists, two steals, and a block in only 21 minutes. The foul trouble and lack of depth had as much to do with that loss as anything that happened in the final moments.
It looks like Porzingis will be sitting out the second half of back-to-backs for the rest of the season. If he keeps playing the way he has been, that caution will be well worth it once the playoffs start.
DONUT 4: A Bad Theory
There’s been a new narrative about Porzingis on social media, and even among some prominent bloggers and media personalities, that we should probably squash now: No, Porzingis isn’t better because Luka is out. Luka isn’t making Porzingis worse when he plays.
Porzingis is better lately because when he shoots, it’s going in more. Luka gets KP the same kinds of catch-and-shoot opportunities that he’s seeing now. It’s just taken Porzingis a little while to recover his shooting form. If he continues to shoot with a pure release (especially the way he did against the Pacers last week), then he might actually have some 40-point games the way that Luka feeds him the ball.
The other part of this is even simpler: Porzingis has to fill some of the space left by the Dwight Powell injury. Kristaps came back from his own injury just in time to see Dwight suffer that torn Achilles. Now the bigs on this team all have to revamp the pecking order to pick up the slack left by the loss of Dwight Powell. Cauley-Stein will certainly help with that, especially as he gets used to the system, but Powell was built for the Mavericks’ offense, and he’s hard to replace.
DONUT 5: The Bench is Fine
I’ve seen some unfair criticism of the Mavericks’ bench recently, and it’s like nobody is paying attention to what’s happened to their depth chart. Yes, the bench has had a dip in scoring and efficiency, but that’s something you have to expect when your sixth, seventh, and eighth men on the roster get shifted to third, fourth, and fifth.
The Mavericks starting lineup used to be: Luka, Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Powell, and Dorian Finney-Smith.
Now Jalen Brunson has replaced Luka as the starting point guard. Likewise, Dwight Powell has been replaced by Maxi Kleber (or maybe Cauley-Stein), while Porzingis is also out on the second night of back-to-backs (leaving another spot for either Maxi or Cauley-Stein to fill in).
That’s already a starting lineup that's a little less talented, though still capable of winning games. But, it also means that the bench is less talented, too. Instead of pulling Brunson off the bench to spell an MVP candidate, you’re benching Brunson for your third-string point guard. When Maxi gets tired, you’re hoping that Boban’s smooth offense makes up for his inability to cover quick players in the open.
This doesn’t even account for the occasional tweaked ankle or knee from Seth Curry or J.J. Barea.
Once Luka gets back, assuming his ankle doesn’t create any lingering issues, he’s going to chew up 30-plus minutes per game. 30 MVP-level minutes per game. That allows part of the bench to slide back into their comfort zone. It also means that Rick can always have one of his stars out on the court. Outside of foul trouble, there will always be a star-level talent on the floor for 48 minutes. That makes the people around them better, and it makes the team better.
DONUT 6: How’s Luka Progressing?
The Mavericks are playing this information close to the vest. They have no reason not to. The goal, as stated two weeks ago, and repeated again over the weekend, is to see Luka suit up for at least one of the final two games before the All-Star Break.
We are told he's out tonight against the Jazz, so he could show up to break Sacramento’s heart one more time, or he might not play again for the Mavericks until February 21st against Orlando.
DONUT 7: Willie Cauley-Stein Finding His Legs
Maybe it’s too soon to get excited about his performance since it came against a mostly inert 16-win Hornets team, but I’m still encouraged by Cauley-Stein’s outing Saturday night.
He earned his first double-double as a Maverick with his 15 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and an assist. He also shot 7-of-7 from the floor, which had shades of Dwight Powell stamped all over it. So far his best performances have been against really bad teams, but his efficiency is improving as he gets more comfortable with the fact that the Mavs pick-and-roll doesn’t ignore the roller.
Still, I’d like to see him show up against a tougher opponent. Maybe tonight against Rudy Golbert?
DONUT 8: Seth Curry’s “Home” Cooking
Seth Curry went home to Charlotte and had a huge game at the expense of the hometown Hornets. His mom was in the stands, his dad was calling the game, and his brother’s reputation for big games in Charlotte haunted the hallways.
Now, Seth has one of his own. He started the game by going 10-for-10 from the floor and 6-for-6 from three-point range. By the time his hot hand cooled off, his 26 points had already helped the Mavericks to a comfortable lead. Oh, and just for good measure, he hauled in six rebounds, dished out three assists, notched a steal, and a block to punctuate an amazing night back home.
DONUT 9: Speaking of Seth
This stat is incredibly fluid because a couple of bad games can make a huge difference, but Seth Curry is currently the active leader in career three-point percentage in the NBA. Yes, even ahead of his brother, two-time MVP Steph Curry.
Seth has moved up a pretty prestigious list of sharpshooters over the last few years (including Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, and Steve Novak). Now, his .4357 number is a hair ahead of Steph’s .4351 percent for active players. (Fish has the full Seth story here.)
He’s also moved into fourth on the All-Time list (behind Steve Kerr, Hubert Davis, and Dražen Petrović) while bumping his brother down to fifth.
DONUT 10: Rooting for Rick
Rick Carlisle hit a recent coaching milestone when he became the 12th coach in NBA history to earn 500 wins with the same team. He’s now a single win away from moving up the All-Time list and into a tie with Gene Shue for 16th with 784 wins.
With a little luck, Rick could go into the All-Star break with 785 wins and sole possession of the 16th spot, but the Mavs will have to cool off the Jazz tonight to make that happen.
Gene, by the way, got his 784 wins over the course of 1,645 total games coached. Rick has coached only 1,431 so far. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t challenge as much as we want him to.
DONUT 11: Heading Into the Break
The Mavericks have two games left headed into All-Star festivities. As I said before, there’s hope that Luka will be back for one, but there’s also a chance that you won’t see Luka play meaningful basketball again until February 21. (There's a chance you'll enjoy our Mavs Step Back Podcasts no matter what!)
The Mavericks have shown that they have the firepower to compete with the best teams in the NBA, even when they’re short-handed. They’ve also shown that they know how to get blown out, even when they’re mostly healthy. Can they beat Utah and Sacramento this week? Absolutely. Will they? Who knows? (Maybe they'll get some help soon via Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?)
The Mavericks do catch a break tonight against Utah because the Jazz are on the second night of a back-to-back after a hard-fought game in Houston. Then, on Wednesday they host the Kings—with a chance for Luka Dončić to return and drive our TJ Macías (who writes here about trying to trust Cauley-Stein) into a Vlad-hating fury.
DONUT 12: The Final Word
“We like this team. We will always look to improve, but we have a great core and want to see it grow together.” -Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban on standing-pat at the NBA trade deadline.