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8 observations following the embarrassing Dallas Mavericks loss to the Phoenix Suns, 99-88

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Wins on the road are harder than they appear

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns worked the Dallas Mavericks, late Thursday night, grabbing their fifth win of the season 99-88. T.J. Warren poured in 30 for the Suns, while Harrison Barnes was the high point man for Dallas in a weak effort.

Dallas opened the game sloppy with back to back turnovers, trying to force passes to DeAndre Jordan like he was Kendrick Perkins on the 2009 Celtics. Yet, with the Suns being bad at basketball this season, the Mavericks didn’t pay for these early mistakes and took an early lead through the passing of Luka Doncic. T.J. Warren opted to channel the injured Devin Booker to light Dallas on fire in the first. He was aided by lazy Dallas defense and a brilliant foul on a three point shot by Dennis Smith. The bench chose to sub Dirk Nowitzki in in place of Maxi Kleber and the Mavericks were unable to build a lead on Phoenix. Dirk hit his first shot, but mostly looked out of place and the Suns took a 25-21 lead into the second period.

Phoenix kept the pressure high on Dallas in the second frame, with Warren leading the charge early. Human turnover machine DeAndre Jordan insisted on giving the Suns the ball repeatedly during the quarter, while also allowing rookie DeAndre Ayton to get doing on pick and roll situations. Wesley Matthews and Luka Doncic did their best to keep the game close, but Mikal Bridges buried a buzzer-beating three to give Phoenix a 50-40 lead heading into the half.

The third quarter continued the exercise in Maverick frustration, with one step forward then two steps back. Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic closed the Phoenix lead to three but a Suns timeout and an Ariza three stopped any forward momentum. A pair of Dallas turnovers, a bench substitution, and all of a sudden the Suns are up 15. Free throws kept Dallas lingering as the bench unit struggled to close the gap. The Suns entered the final frame up 78-67.

In the end, nothing mattered for the Mavericks. The bench played hard but ultimately only closed the gap to seven points with six minutes remaining. The starters re-entered the game but continued with their trash-fire quality of play which resulted in Dallas being down to begin with. Missed shots, bad defense, poor effort, and the Dallas Mavericks gifted the Phoenix Suns their fifth win of the season, losing 99-89

Now many, many thoughts:

The schedule

There will be some crowing about how this was the third game in four nights for the Mavericks. Tough. That’s life in the NBA. It’s a terrible attempt at an excuse for a team that regularly plays 10 guys. After getting Friday and Saturday off, Dallas plays nine games in sixteen days and every single contest is a match up against a potential Western conference hopeful.

No one cares if they are tired. Dig deep. Play harder. Don’t lose to the freaking NBA-worst Suns.

Threes, turnovers, and free throws

Missing 28 of 33 attempts from behind the arc is bad. Giving the ball to other team 23 times is worse. Missing 11 free throws in a 10 point loss is horrendous.

Open threes aren’t always going to fall, but giving the ball away and hitting freebies are absolutely within a team’s control. If the Mavericks are for real, this kind of stuff will clean itself up over time. If they aren’t, well, issues like these will rise up time and again.

Give Luka the ball and get out of the way

It’s a small sample, but I’ve seen enough to know the results: give future NBA Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic the ball and let him run the show. Yeah, I can see the comments already, Doncic had another ho-hum performance, turning in 13 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 turnovers.

He did all that while trading possessions with Dennis Smith Jr. like the two were early Miami Heat versions of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. If you watched the game, you had to see what I saw... Dennis Smith is excellent off the attack when he chooses to, but far too often he’s thinking instead of playing and that’s why he had a horrendous night as a game manager with one assist and five turnovers. Maybe his wrist isn’t right still. The three he took from the top of the key was so very off.

I don’t want Smith to be traded. But this notion that he and Doncic should be equals in the offensive hierarchy is not well thought out. Smith has to bring something to the table.

What would you say you do here, DeAndre (Part 2)

DeAndre Jordan is still so good. I believe this because I’ve seen it. Yet I continue to see him jog back on defense, not challenge shots, turn the ball over at a horrifying rate, all the while performing as the good veteran for television cameras.

Five turnovers, no fouls, half-hearted attempts at blocks while never touching the ball. The film will not lie and Jordan is at the heart of both the Maverick energy and the galling lack thereof on display against the Suns.

It was a bad time to bring back Dirk

On paper, it all made sense: third game in four nights against one of the worst teams in the league. He should have given the team an emotional bump if they were struggling with energy.

Unfortunately, with J.J. Barea out, subbing in two different players in Dirk Nowitzki and Jalen Brunson, things were awkward. It’s fair to say the Dirk experiment produced mixed results at best and removing Maxi Kleber from the group didn’t look great. It’s just one six minute stretch, though. So, we need many more minutes to get a true feel for where Dirk is in his process and how he can help the team.

Harrison, I know I told you to shoot but my man...

A night after I begged Harrison Barnes to shoot more threes, he simply didn’t have the touch against the Suns, hitting just two of nine attempts. Of course, no Maverick had any amount of touch from beyond the arc, so he can’t be responsible for the mess.

And yet, I’m going to pick a nit. Please, please, please pass the ball. He’s seeking out fouls, he’s talking to the media about wanting fouls, and then we all see things like this:

What’s incredible is that there’s another defender just to the right out of the frame, so Barnes is effectively going four-on-one with one teammate in the frame. If you can do math, that means you know that he had three open teammates to pass to and yet, did not. He doesn’t get calls because he just runs into opposing players a lot and referees don’t just issue fouls based on that sort of contact.

There will be a column coming on this eventually, but Harrison drives a lot and passes a little. Maybe the guy who draws four defenders on one play could stand to kick it out a time or two. It would really help his assist to turnover rate, which stands at 28 assists to 37 turnovers on the year.

It’s time to bring Wesley Matthews off the bench and start Dorian Finney-Smith

Matthews is a proud guy who is still very functional. Of the players the Mavericks can realistically consider bringing off the bench, he’s a real option for Dallas. DFS has been too important in wins as of late to only see the floor for 18 minutes. Each player comes with strengths and weaknesses, but it’s time for the longer term option in Finney-Smith to adsorb more minutes in the Dallas rotation.

Gut check time is coming

Look, I’m well aware that I’m the idiot up writing 1200-plus words about a loss to the Suns in December. I also know that I wrote that this time with no expectations is the best time to be a fan. I still believe that.

But if I’m going to stay up late and watch this team, at minimum I expect to see effort and for chunks of this game there was not much on either end of the floor.

The Dallas Mavericks are good, I believe that too. The rest of this month will show just how good they actually are and there’s very little margin for error. The Kings are no joke, nor are the Blazers, Pelicans, Thunder or any of the other teams they face this month. The Mavericks need to bounce back with a vengeance this Sunday or it could trail into an ugly December.