Luka Doncic was winning European titles six months ago, this shit doesn’t bother him at all.
He has it. You know what that “it” is. It’s the juice, the stones, the high power of basketball when a player knows it’s winning time. It’s a mess of terrible and lazy cliches, yes, but gosh damnit, Luka Doncic has it and it is so much fun to watch.
He almost willed the Mavs back against the Spurs on Monday. Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, he put the team on his back again, carrying the offense and making huge shots. Hell, he even put the brakes on his childhood idol:
That is some crazy good defense from a 19-year-old against the best basketball player in the world. LeBron earlier in the game charged through Doncic for an offensive foul, but he sent Doncic to the floor for a hard fall. This time Doncic takes that same initial thrust to the chest but is able to stay balanced, get back into the play and contest at the rim. Absolutely beautiful stuff.
The thing about Doncic is we don’t have to worry about him. His body language for the last four minutes of this game was “I’m winning this m-f-er.” Then he did everything he could to win it.
Rick Carlisle gave Doncic the ball and he delivered. This is star-quality stuff from Doncic’s fourth quarter, where he scored 10 points, went 3-of-3 from the field, 2-of-2 from three and had three assists and just one turnover. Against the Spurs in the fourth quarter on Monday he scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. Both on the road! I don’t think we have to worry about Doncic anymore, if anyone was. He’s going to show his warts still, with some lazy turnovers and some rough defense. But he can takeover a game and knowing that less than a month into the season is special. Holy crap Luka.
- All that being said, DAMNIT WESLEY MATTHEWS WHAT IN THE LIVING HELL. I’m not sure what possessed Matthews to wildly flail at LeBron with about two seconds left in a tie game and the Lakers being in the bonus for eight minutes. It looked like Matthews forgot the Lakers were in the bonus despite the fact that the Lakers were in it for 75 percent of the quarter. If he didn’t forget then it almost feels worse because why in the hell would you do that if you knew you were in the penalty? This wasn’t an almost steal or a risky gamble that failed — Wes hacked LeBron like he was trying to stop the clock. He didn’t come close to making a play. It was an awful, terrible, no-good way to spoil Luka’s takeover. It made me feel violently ill when it happened and now thinking about it about an hour later, I’m just dumbfounded. What the hell dude.
- What’s worse is that play basically erased all the goodwill Matthews had built up during the game. While the Mavs offense was sputtering for bits and pieces throughout the night, Wes was solid in getting up quality shots without taking over the offense with excessive dribbling. Wes scored 21 points on 15 shots, making 4-of-10 threes. It was a perfect Wes game that proved he’s still very useful when all he’s asked to do is make spot up looks or easy reads when the defense collapses on the other playmakers. More of this and less of the inexcusable defensive brain farts, please.
- Allow me to pick some nits with Dennis Smith Jr. for a second. Near the beginning of the third quarter, Smith got an outlet pass and started to get down the floor quickly. Kyle Kuzma, not a great defender, is trying to keep up and isn’t in front of Smith. The Lakers big on the floor, JaVale McGee, is behind the play as he tried to get an offensive rebound. The other Lakers defenders are playing their man fairly close on the perimeter. All Smith had to do was activate his speed boosters, fly by Kuzma and either have an easy jam or maybe get fouled. Instead he backed it out.
To be fair to Smith, LeBron is helping till Kuzma catches up and it’s easy to hesitate and back it out and run some offense when a brick wall of human is leaning toward you. It just felt like Smith could have made something happen there, you know? Look at how much court there was for Smith to play with before he slowed down:
Again, that’s LeBron James right in front of him. But Smith has Barnes in the corner — if LeBron actually keeps playing help defense (rimshot), then Barnes is freed up for an easy three. The Mavs actually made a bucket after Smith pulled it out so like I said, I’m picking nits. It’s just the kind of thing I notice when Smith is in the midst of a three game stretch with just four free throw attempts. That’s pretty remarkable for a point guard as athletic and quick as Smith is. It just seems like something is off in regards to Smith’s aggression toward the bucket. Smith also had a terrible game against the Lakers: five points in 23 minutes and a minus-29 on the night. He didn’t play at all in crunch time as the Mavs made their comeback with Luka basically running point. It’s still early in this new process, but Smith just doesn’t look great right now.
- This used to be a hot take of mine, but it’s starting to feel less of one as time goes on — DeAndre Jordan is at this point in his career a more valuable offensive player than a defensive one. That doesn’t mean Jordan is a bad defensive player, not at all! He’s still very good at making sure that when people shoot at the rim near him, they don’t score. The problem is so many NBA teams are now trading twos for threes, even twos at the rim. Guards and even bigs are more willing than ever to toss a pass out to the corner after sliding to the basket. So while rim protection is still valuable, I’m not sure how much of it is when the player who’s protecting the rim can’t step outside the paint on defense. Jordan’s screens and rim runs seem much more important right now than whatever the Mavericks are doing on defense at the moment. So when Jordan has a six turnover game, it looks especially ghastly. I love seeing Jordan involved and whipping crisp passes to backdoor cutters, but the Mavs might need to tone down the use of him handling the ball at the elbows outside of straight dribble-handoffs. It’s starting to look like the boggy Mavs offense from a few years ago when Andrew Bogut would hold the ball forever near the free throw line and elbow.
- Speaking of the defense, it was horrific again for large chunks of the game. Teams keep canning shots against the Mavs at a ridiculous rate and while it should regress sooner rather than later, how much it regresses very much depends on if the Mavs would like to close out to a shooter this century. Look at this defense after a Mavs make. It’s embarrassing.
I don’t care how much the math works in the Mavs’ favor, teams are going to keep roasting this defense if these putrid mistakes don’t get cleaned up.