MVP-favorite Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks have very high expectations for the 2020-2021 NBA season, but they knew they'd have their hands full in the first game of the season against the Phoenix Suns.
The Mavs headed into this game having lost 11 of the last 15 games played against Phoenix, including an 0-3 record against them in this calendar year. Those Suns demons weren't exorcised on Wednesday night, as Phoenix pulled away from the Mavs in clutch time and winning the game, 106-102.
“That was my bad,'' Doncic said of late-game decision-making. "I got to stop taking these very bad shots. It wasn’t just the last one. There were a couple there.
“It’s not good for me. It’s not good for the team. And I got to change it.''
By the numbers, Doncic still led the Mavs in this one, despite getting off to an ice-cold 2-of-9 shooting start in the first quarter. Doncic finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but his 11-of-26 shooting from the field and 0-6 shooting from deep kept him from being able to pull Dallas to victory on this night.
Thus, "my bad.''
One bright side for Doncic, though, was his free-throw shooting. After struggling in that area in his first two seasons, Doncic started his third NBA season off by shooting 10-of-12 from the stripe.
Although Doncic will make most of the headlines due to his stat line, it was the play of reserves Jalen Brunson and Willie Cauley-Stein that kept the Mavs close in the fourth quarter. Brunson finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with four assists in 18 minutes. Cauley-Stein only scored two points and grabbed two rebounds, but in his six minutes of action, he was a team-high plus-14 in the box score.
Josh Richardson and Tim Hardaway Jr. also pitched in with 12 points each.
Devin Booker led the Suns with 22 points, five rebounds and three assists, but it was the presence of newly-acquired future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul that helped make a difference for the Suns in clutch-time. Paul only scored eight points in this game, but half of those came in final three minutes, and he also had a big-time steal late when the Mavs had an opportunity to take the lead.
Although the Suns are much-improved from the product they've been in previous years, one has to believe that even a moderate shooting night for Doncic in this one would've been enough for the Mavs to win comfortably.
Still, close games in the West will probably be the norm.
“Winning and losing in the Western Conference this year is going to come down to concentration on details,'' coach Rick Carlisle said, "and there’s just a few things we just got to do better.”
The Mavs will now shift their focus to Christmas Day, as they'll take on LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angles Lakers in a prime-time, star-studded showdown at Staples Center. Like the Mavs, the Lakers will also enter this game with an 0-1 record to start the season.
This high-profile meeting is made possible in part because of Luka's high profile. But ...
“It’s a long way to go to be one of the faces of the league,'' Doncic said modestly. "But we’re playing the champions. It’s going to be something special. I always wanted to play on Christmas Day.”