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9 observations from the Dallas Mavericks’ loss versus the Toronto Raptors, 116-107

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Raptors in Toronto Friday night, losing 116-107. Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with a strong all around performance, scoring 21 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing five assists. Rookie Luka Doncic was the high point man for Dallas with 22 in defeat.

Toronto blew the doors off Dallas early, running out to an 18-2 lead as the Mavericks couldn’t get anything to fall. Dallas settled down some and worked into the game cutting the lead to single digits midway through the frame. But the Raptors simply out-hustled Dallas, through offensive rebounding and pushing after made baskets. Toronto led 39-26 after one quarter.

The Mavericks came alive in the second quarter, largely on the strength of their defensive effort led by Maxi Kleber. Dallas repeatedly cut the Raptor lead to five points, but couldn’t stop Toronto from behind the arc. Dallas trailed at the half, 60-69.

Quarter three proved to be the last stand from the Mavericks. Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson each heated up offensively, hitting a number of threes. Paired with the continued effort of Kleber the Mavericks were eventually able to whittle down the Raptor lead to one point. With the score at 89-90 with 1:31 in the quarter, Dallas was unable to get another basket. J.J. Barea missed a free throw to tie it. Harrison Barnes missed two free throws. Dorian Finney-Smith missed a wild put back attempt. It would be as close as the Mavericks would get. An iffy goal-tending call gave Toronto a 92-89 lead heading into the fourth.

Dallas would continue it’s scoring drought until the 8:30 mark in the fourth quarter, when Harrison Barnes finally broke the seal. But by that point, the Raptors had built up an 8 point lead and it would never come down. The Mavericks managed to score a mere 18 points in the final 14 minutes of regulation and the Raptors walked away with a 116-107 victory.

Now, some thoughts on the game:

A lack of consistent effort

It’s important to acknowledge the Mavericks lost to what may be a top 4 team in the NBA. And yet, this was an extremely winnable game that largely came down to a lack of effort, mainly at the defensive end. Dallas, and DeAndre Jordan specifically, got beat down the floor after both makes and misses for easy points for the Raptors. Considering this game was a single digit contest for large portions of game, the easy baskets the Mavericks gave up were a key reason they lost. Pair that with a lot of unforced turnovers from the entire team (10 between the starters alone) and those two items were why Dallas leaves Canada with a loss.

I do not understand Luka Doncic’s role

There’s more to say on this later, because it’s best to have more than a five game sample size before reaching a sweeping conclusion.

And yet, through five games Doncic appears to be the best player on the team. Perhaps Harrison Barnes will assume that title when he gets more games under his belt. Through five games, he’s averaging 19.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists while getting to the line 4.6 times per game.

He’s doing all this while going long stretches where he doesn’t see the ball on offense unless it’s in transition. Doncic’s best skill is his vision and Dallas doesn’t put him in a lot of situations where he can utilize that skill on set plays outside of the occasional side pick and roll. It’s early, but I expected more creativity with his usage.

It’s fine if the Mavericks don’t want to acknowledge that he’s their best option at point guard. There might be good reasons for that (like how winded he looks, which may be the theme through December) but at minimum they have to get him more involved in the offense.

Horrendous first quarters

Dallas is surrendering 34 points in opening periods so far this season. There’s not much to add here. They have to do better.

Harrison Barnes was not shy

One has to appreciate the boldness of a guy gunning up 17 shots (and hitting only five) in his first game coming back from an injury. We’re going to ignore that he was a -24 in 28 minutes.

Barnes is going to be a much needed part of this offense and he showed flashes tonight between his getting to the line and his defensive presence. It just didn’t translate to an effective game this time.

Maxi with the maximum effort

Kleber is 6’8” at best and he’s key to whatever defense the Mavericks hope to put out on the floor during stretches. A block off help defense like this is enormous.

The good, the bad, and the ugly with Wesley Matthews

When Matthews is at his best in the Maverick offense, he’s doing one of three things. First, catching the ball and shooting, preferably off the drive of another Mavericks player where he can have his feet set. Second, catching the ball on the move towards the basket, usually on one of the baselines. Third, his mid-range post up game is really good. Six of his made baskets against the Raptors were of the two point variety and all but a floater were either from cuts or post ups.

Matthews is much less effective when Dallas runs him off screens like he’s the second coming of J.J. Redick. I don’t have the numbers to prove this, but any time I see Wes coming off a DeAndre Jordan screen at the top of the key for a three pointer or a drive in the middle of the court, I cringe.

Finally, thing’s get ugly whenever Matthews tries to be something he’s not, which is to say a play maker off the dribble. If you follow me on social media, you’ll see I’m pretty harsh about him, maybe too harsh. But then you see a play like this, when Dallas doesn’t have the numbers and it boggles the mind.

Dribbling into five guys is a bold choice

You can’t tell me you don’t see it now

Can the Mavericks defend a three point shot?

Prior to the game, the Mavericks were the worst three point defense in the NBA by percentage, allowing opponents to make 50% of their long balls. For context, the second worst was the Spurs, allowing 42.6% of threes. So Dallas has been tremendously bad in a way that has to get better even if they change nothing about their defense.

Yet they still have to find a way to improve those numbers with their own effort. Despite Toronto only hitting 41% from three, Dallas looked as bad at defending the arc as they have all year. I wonder how much if it stems from their switching defense. With the variations of help and recover that happen during a defensive possession for the Mavericks, it seems like the second wave of help (often called helping the helper) isn’t happening at all. It’s resulted in an alarming amount of corner and otherwise wide open three point looks for the offense. Dallas has to figure out something.

DeAndre Jordan looks too tired on defense

Again, understanding it’s a small sample, but Jordan has looked atrocious on defense. Perhaps it’s his use on offense, where he’s getting stuck in multiple pick and rolls and doing a lot of pointless motion on that end of the floor. That might make sense later in the game but as mentioned previously, he got beat down the floor repeatedly by Raptors players.

Sure, he had a great stat line (18 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists) but something feels off in his usage as well. He played a lot with Barea against Toronto and Barea ran him ragged for very little effect.

The Mavericks need Jordan defensively and thus far he’s looked very listless on that end of the court.

J.J. Barea is not helping

The longtime Maverick is shooting 28% from the floor this season and it’s really not helping. His assist totals look fantastic on paper (37 assists to 4 turnovers) but he’s remarkably easy to game plan for. At this point, when Barea is in the game, he’s either shooting and doing so poorly, or passing the ball to whoever the roll man is. It’s growing tiresome to watch Barea soak up 20 minutes and do things which don’t actually help the team that much.

That should change when Dirk Nowitzki returns from injury, but for now, it’s frustrating to watch.