The Dallas Mavericks’ offensive machine is not necessarily broken beyond repair, but it is broken.
And the Los Angeles Clippers’ machine? He is Kawhi Leonard, and he is, as it was put to us the other day …
In a league in which some stars care little about defense, Leonard is one of the NBA’s most dominance two-way forces. In this first-round Mavs-Clippers series, it took him a minute to take charge as a scorer; in Games 1 and 2, both Dallas upset wins, Mavs superkid Luka Doncic was the best player on the floor.
But since then? Luka is hurt, laboring through a neck strain that doesn’t allow his “head or be on a swivel,” which is at the root of his magic. We also bet he’s sick and tired.
“Sick,” in the sense of being ill, a bug, run-down, something. And “tired,” maybe of the way the Kristaps Porzingis partnership is unraveling.
Those two issues are Dallas off-season concerns - with the off-season staring this franchise coldly in the face as Wednesday’s Game 5 at L.A. approaches.
Luka will bravely insist he’s “100 percent,” but the 22-year-old MVP-level star wears his truth on his sleeve - all the joys and all the pains.
Kawhi, meanwhile, will reveal nothing, part of the complimentary “cyborg” label issued him by Mavs radio voice Chuck Cooperstein.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has talked of Kawhi and running mate Paul George essentially being able to bully their way to the rim.
Adds DallasBasketball.com analyst Grant Afseth: Leonard “made it a point to be aggressive getting to the rim early in possessions in Game 4. Sometimes, a straight-line drive was all it took.
“His ability to play through contact/traffic is incredible. He did not feel resistance even when the Mavs had a big man in position.”
One difference in this series: Luka - who has done some wild things in this series as a scorer, highlighted by a one-legged runner from behind the arc - has a knack for making hard shots.
Leonard - maybe the sport’s most efficient scorer - has a knack for making easy shots.
Is it incumbent on Luka to “keep up” with Kawhi? Maybe, but Dallas has to find other avenues of success, too - and one of them might have to be to concede to Leonard’s greatness while Luka plays through pain. Ask Luka and Kristaps Porzingis to perform in perfect synch? They might not have that in them. Focus on the “picked poison” of stopping George by giving more minutes to sub Josh Richardson? Concede jumpers to Kawhi so he’ll quit making uncontested layups?
The precocious Doncic’s BBIQ remains central to any chance Dallas has of re-taking the series lead. But it frankly might be a sidebar to what Kawhi Leonard can accomplish in his robotic ability to break down an opponent …
And to break an opponent.
CONTINUE READING: Mavs Donuts: Can Luka, Porzingis and Dallas Turn Around 'Terrible'?