The Dallas Mavericks are suddenly accelerating through end of the NBA regular- season Super-highway - and slapping away foes like the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers in the same way that Luka Doncic ... well, slapped at the Cavs.
Dallas’ 124-97 Sunday win at Cleveland is a success that pushes the Mavs to a record of 40-28 and one that fortifies their position in fifth place in the Western Conference - but one that also loosened Luka's grip on his cool-headedness.
Doncic was given a Flagrant-2 and an ejection for an involvement with Collin Sexton that included the Mavs star executing what officials termed "an aggressive strike to the groin area'' of the Cavs player.
“After I saw the video, I knew I hit him, but it wasn’t nothing on purpose. ... It obviously wasn’t on purpose,'' claimed Doncic after the win.
The fuel behind Dallas’ successful push is of course Doncic, who for the season is averaging 28.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.7 assists and here gave the Mavericks 15 points, five rebounds and five assists before taking a shower after 22 minutes.
Judged by the numbers - 5,000 points and 1,500 assists and 1,500 rebounds - Luka is in a club with only Oscar Robertson and LeBron James.
But judged by the temper? No, the Flagrant-2 ejection doesn't count toward a suspension. Nevertheless, Luka is in a club in this way that he needs to eject himself from.
Regarding the actual game ...
Yes, it was “just the Cavs,” and for the second straight meeting between two franchises driving in opposite directions, the Mavericks having drubbed the Cavaliers (now 21-47) in Dallas on Friday.
But this is the same Mavs bunch that recently lost a trio of matches to the have-not Kings in a span of just 15 days. So every victory should be cherished, especially as it was about 45 games ago when the Mavs were mired in 14th place.
At game’s end here? Other middling West contenders are still jousting to avoid the Playoff Play-In muck while the Mavs - seemingly less worried than before about “unwieldy rules” and “unfair refs” and “undone friendships” - are 31-14 in their last 45 games to move to a season-high 12 games over .500.
With Kristaps Porzingis (knee) again watching - a status that with just four regular-season games remaining might change this week as he will reportedly meet the media (virtually) on Monday - Doncic got help from Tim Hardaway Jr., who scored 25 points in 27 minutes, and from Josh Richardson, with a 20-point outburst.
Dwight Powell earned the "Defensive Belt'' while tying a career-high with four blocks.
The Mavs went on a 30-15 run following the ejection - coach Rick Carlisle said it "sparked'' the team - and outscored Cleveland 34-19 in the third quarter to seal the deal.
There have been too many times this year when the Mavs have downshifted their performance to match the ineptitude of their opponent. Fortunately, they don’t do much of that on the road - the Mavericks are now 21-13 away from home and fortunately they don’t do it against the Cavs, who have now dropped 10 straight.
But there are also too many times when the key to any chance of success against contenders allows self-control to slip from his talented fingertips.
An intersection with the NBA Playoffs is near. The Mavs, and Luka Doncic, would be wise to slap foes in a way that impacts them on the very public scoreboard and in the very public standings ... and not just on their privates.