The Dallas Mavericks had lost three straight entering play Wednesday, and though they faced the last-place Phoenix Suns, they had also lost seven(!) straight to the Suns dating back to the 2016-17 season. The Suns would be without star guard Devin Booker, but Booker had also missed the December 13th matchup that Phoenix won by 10 points, so there was certainly still reason for concern.
Alas, the Mavs pulled this one out, despite trailing at halftime, thanks to a third quarter blitz that put them ahead the rest of the way.
MAVS VISIT THE CHARITY STRIPE
It’s been a remarkable development this year, but Dallas has morphed into a free-throw generating monster, thanks largely to rookie phenom Luka Doncic, who contorted, grunted and flailed his way(classy-like, naturally) to 15 of the Mavs’ 45 free throws on the night. Harrison Barnes also earned 10 of his own. Barnes did not have an especially great shooting night from the floor, missing 7 of 8 threes and 8 of 11 shots, but those 10 freebies gave him an efficient 17 points overall. Barnes even had 3 assists!!!!!!
DALLAS TURNS UP DEFENSIVE EFFORT IN SECOND HALF
...or did Phoenix just miss shots? Maybe a little of both? A 32-19 third quarter run turned the game around for Dallas, who looked a little half-cocked early on. Phoenix was getting quality looks from three, and noted Mav killers T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson were hitting everything at the start, before going cold after the break. Perhaps the most notable performance for Phoenix was of fellow rookie DeAndre Ayton, who just did not have much luck inside, seeing several layups spin out en route to a forgettable 6 point on 1-7 shooting night. DeAndre Jordan has been the subject of much derision from outside observers for his defensive effort, but to his credit, he brought some extra physicality to Ayton, and it bothered the talented youngster enough to keep him a total non-factor.
THE SECRET WEAPON? MAXI!
Luka Doncic carried Dallas early with his offense, and Harrison Barnes delivered some late buckets in crunch time(Wes also had a prayer three to keep the cushion safe), but perhaps the unsung hero tonight was Maxi Kleber, who started once again with Dennis Smith Jr. sitting out, and Kleber — who has since his minutes cut a little with the return of Dirk, who also missed tonight’s game — responded with a very strong all-around showing. He nearly recorded a double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds, blocked a pair of shots and challenged many others, and hit a couple of threes, which is really the only thing holding him back right now from being a consistently elite role player.
WHERE DID YOU GO, BENCH?
In fairness, with DSJ and Dirk out, the bench takes an understandable hit, but it’s worth noting that the unit that has at times carried the Mavs has suddenly withered a bit. J.J. Barea was 1-for his last 17 from threes before a late game make. Devin Harris has also fallen into a slump. Dorian Finney Smith and Dwight Powell are energy guys that can run hot or cold, as well. Collectively, the group was poor in this one, and with the season only half over, you hope they aren’t hitting a wall too early here, because there’s a lot of basketball left and coach Rick Carlisle is still figuring out the best way of deploying the starters.
Dallas finishes a two game home stand at 1-1, and will now travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves and their new head coach on Friday. See you then!