The Dallas Mavericks held on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, winning 130-123. Old stalwart Dirk Nowitzki led a balanced and potent offensive attack, scoring 22 points. Julius Randle was the high point man for the Lakers scoring 26 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists.
Dallas fans experienced what could go down as the most exciting game of the year. When there’s this much scoring, it’s hard to know where to begin, but for both teams the shots came easy, happened often, and never really stopped going down. The first quarter Mavericks were led by a shifty J.J. Barea, who played his best all around game since coming back from injury. With Brandan Ingram and Julius Randle looking aggressive early, the Mavericks needed every basket to hang around. Isaiah Thomas, playing his first game for the Lakers, looked great early, hitting a big three. Doug McDermott, also playing his first game for his new team, entered the line up playing the same role in the rotation as the departed Devin Harris. He somehow got a wide open transition attempt for his first shot which he flushed down to thunderous applause. But the aforementioned Ingram and Randle came to play and kept a tight lead on the Mavericks for most of the quarter and Dallas trailed after one, 36-34.
The second quarter turned the intensity up, as neither team seemed to have much of an ability to stop the other. There were six, maybe seven dunks in the second period alone between both teams. Dwight Powell became a rim running cyborg, getting back-to-back ally oop dunks. Dirk Nowitzki even got in on the dunking action, slamming one home following a fast break pass from Kyle Collinsworth. Yet despite all the highlight reel plays from the Mavericks, the Lakers were even better, jumping out to a 53-42 lead. Dallas answered with Dennis Smith Jr. doing his best Chris Paul impersonation, finding shooters on three straight possessions to cut into the Laker lead with a 7-0 run. Isaiah Thomas and the Lakers kept pace, but a 5-0 Dennis Smith run to close the half meant the Mavericks trailed 65-66 after two.
One would figure halftime adjustments might cut the scoring down some, but one would be wrong. Dirk opened scoring for Dallas with another timeless top of the key three, but the Lakers remained nonplussed as Ingram and Randle kept scoring with regularity. The Mavericks got their lead up to as high as six points before the Lakers rallied ahead again. Dwight Powell tied the game at 88 with a lay up at the 4:32 mark and his free throw gave Dallas the lead which they would hold for the rest of the quarter. The Mavericks led after three quarters, 100-95.
The final quarter remained intense, with the young Lakers unwilling to relent despite repeated efforts by the Mavericks to close out the game. Dirk Nowitzki opened the fourth the same way he did the third quarter with a splash down three. A flagrant one by Thomas of Kyle Collinsworth gave the Mavericks an additional possession. McDermott and Powell then worked a nice two man game resulting in another great shot for Powell. The Lakers looked rattled after falling behind 113-105, but a great drive by Ingram followed by a careless turnover by Barea allowed the Lakers to get right back in the mix. Kyle Kuzma actually took the lead back for the Lakers with a gutsy transition three. After exchanging leads once again the Lakers held a 118-117 advantage for nearly a minute and a half as neither team could find the bottom of the net. A Dennis Smith Jr. Lay up retook the lead for Dallas at the 3:09 mark and they would not lose it again. The Lakers got sloppy with possessions and the odd line up of Smith, Yogi Ferrell, Salah Merji, Maxi Kleber, and Doug McDermott closed the game out, giving Dallas a 130-123 victory.
Now some observations:
Doug McDermott, functional basketball player
Who would guess that a guy who finished his career 5th in the NCAA for scoring might know what he’s doing on a basketball court! The Lakers were the perfect team for Mavericks fans to get a good look of what McDermott can offer, since they too were testing out new line ups. While none of us expected a pair of dunks, the shot making and decision making were on full display for Dallas. It will be interesting to see how he’s used down the stretch because his size and basketball IQ alone give coach Rick Carlisle another interesting player to test in line ups.
Moving the rock!
The Dallas Mavericks were one assist short of their team season high this season, getting 32 helpers on the stat sheet. Considering the Mavericks scored 130 points, this isn’t surprising. Maxi Kleber was the only player to not record an assist.
I had an intense debate with a friend after the trade deadline about the state of the Mavericks rebuild in comparison to the Lakers. On one hand, the Lakers have been bad for a while now and have had a number of early draft picks. Guys like Kyle Kuzma and Brandan Ingram look like they could be impact players. On the other hand, the Lakers just shipped two former potential contributors in Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson to Cleveland. The Lakers have had a lot of chances to get better through the draft and thus far the results are mixed.
Meanwhile the Mavericks have really just had this last draft, with Dennis Smith Jr. There’s no real young core of Dallas players despite what the front office would have us believe. The Mavericks are projected to finish the season in the middle of the lottery at worst, somewhere around eighth or ninth again. The Mavericks seem to have the best player out of all the aforementioned young guys, but the Lakers have more volume of young guys who could pan out.
Obviously, rebuilding isn’t linear. Who has the better way forward is still very clearly up in the air.
Empty Stats Star
Julius Randle is often linked to the Mavericks through the rumor mill (usually started in L.A.) because of his Dallas roots. Folks who didn’t watch the game might see the box score and say “Hey, 26 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists! Nice!” Don’t be fooled and don’t let your friends be fooled either. He’s a bull, yes, but he has sloppy footwork and is careless with the ball (five turnovers!). He also can’t shoot outside of eight feet. It gets a little awkward when a third string center like Salah Merji entered the game in the final clutch minutes and essentially stonewalled Randle on the defensive end and was a key offensive cog as the Mavericks extended the lead. Randle doesn’t play much defense either and that’s primarily because he’s short.
Unless the price becomes a bargain for the Mavericks this summer, they should move right past Randle on the free agent market.
The weirdest closing line up ever
We don’t talk much about “tanking” here at Moneyball because the Mavericks loudly protest the concept. And yet what is one supposed to think when they trot out a crunch time line up of Dennis Smith Jr, Yogi Ferrell, Doug McDermott, Maxi Kleber, and Salah Merji? Three undrafted players, a rookie, and a brand new guy? YEESH.
And yet they won anyway. Why? Because Carlisle is a warlock and his guys play hard every possession. If you’re on the side of hoping the Mavericks get the best draft odds possible, don’t let this win rattle you. Enjoy the victory. Enjoy the weirdness. The Mavericks were not trying to lose that game, but that line up doesn’t scream “give me the best chance to win” either.