When you get near the top of the mountain in the NBA, you tend to get everyone’s best shot every night. With the Dallas Mavericks having set up a base camp within the summit of the league, the Mavs will have nights when even the magic that is Luka Doncic won’t be enough.
Sunday night was clear evidence of that eventuality. The Mavericks’ 110-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings saw them play their worst game in a month, a stretch that has seen them climb from being a team just over .500 to a team that, entering Sunday’s game, was in second place in the Western Conference.
There will be games like this, they’ll just be less frequent than Mavs fans have grown accustomed to the past few seasons.
“The first half was a killer for us,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “Sacramento came in and played a great first half. They were physical on both ends and we did not respond well and didn’t play well, obviously.
“We were very disappointed in our defense in the first half. Second half was way better. But you have to play the whole game.”
It took some of the luster out of Doncic’s recent selection as Sports Illustrated’s Breakout of the Year for 2019, as part of its Sportsperson of the Year issue.
“When I heard about it I was happy, it was something special,” Doncic said in response to a DallasBasketball.com question. “I appreciate everyone from Sports Illustrated awarding that to me. It’s something that motivates me and I want to keep it going.”
The Mavs’ loss was the fourth straight to the Kings, dating back to Sacramento’s season sweep of the Mavericks in three meetings last year. The loss was also Dallas’ 10th to the Kings in their last 13 meetings and their first loss in the month of December.
The loss also snapped the Mavs’ five-winning streak and was just their second loss in their last 12 games, a streak that started on Nov. 16 when they beat the Toronto Raptors. During that stretch the Mavs’ only other loss came to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 26.
For the Mavs it was a relatively listless performance, especially on the defensive end, where the Mavs gave up several uncontested layups. Granted, it was the team’s second set of back-to-back games in six days. But this second set of back-to-backs featured a 1 p.m. game with New Orleans on Saturday, one the Mavs won by 46 points. Carlisle wouldn’t use it as an excuse after the game.
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Dallas did finally get things energized in the fourth quarter and outscored the Kings, 28-18. The Mavs even had the Kings’ lead down to two points in the final minute. But the Kings managed to escape when Doncic’s mid-range jumper failed to fall, followed by a Mavs defensive lapse that led to the Kings’ final points. Doncic protested that he should have gotten a foul on the missed shot, the last of several contentious encounters with the officials, one of which led to a technical foul.
Was Luka fouled at the end?
"I think he’s got a case, for a lot of it,'' Carlisle said. "He gets hit a lot. People take a lot of liberties on him. ... When he comes over to the bench and he’s got scratches and blood marks on his arms and hands, I know there's something there.''
Doncic is the star most nights, but it was Tim Hardaway Jr. who lit things up for the Mavs, almost exclusively from distance. He ended with 29 points, shooting 9-of-12 from the 3-point line and 10-of-13 overall. His made 3-pointers was a new career high.
But that wasn’t enough to beat a Kings team (9-13) that, despite playing without Marvin Bagley III and DeAaron Fox, outclassed the Mavs (16-7) in just about every respect Sunday evening. For most of the first half the Kings shot 60 percent or better, finishing at 51.8 percent from the floor and carried a double-digit lead for most of the contest, including a 20-point lead at the break.
“(The first half) was probably our worst half of basketball all season,” Doncic said.
Nemanja Bjelica led the Kings with 30 points, while Richaun Holmes had nine rebounds, while Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield each had five assists. Hield also had 26 points, while Banes had 13 and Holmes had 12.
(Video by Taimon R. Turner of Dallas Sports Fanatic)
Doncic ended up with 27 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. he continues to tear through NBA milestones and make them his own. Against the Kings Sunday Doncic put together his 19th straight game with at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, breaking a tie with Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan for the most consecutive 20-5-5 games since the NBA-ABA merger in 1977. Now his final target is Oscar Robertson. Robertson had streaks of 19 (which Doncic tied on Sunday), 25 and 29 games of 25-5-5 in his incredible career.
Now the Mavericks head to Mexico City to face the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night before returning home for Saturday’s game with the Miami Heat.