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The Mavericks might have figured out the group they want to ride with

After mixing and matching lineups all season, Dallas has settled in with rotation that feels sustainable.

San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Late in the second quarter of the Mavericks’ win against the Spurs on Monday night, Dallas rolled out a lineup that has barely seen time this season, even though most logic assumes it would.

It was Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis would pick up a foul a few possessions later, with Maxi Kleber taking his place. This lineup, one with the Mavericks two best guards (Wright and Curry), their two best wings (Finney-Smith and Luka) with their floor spacing center (either Kleber or Porzingis) just makes sense. That lineup played just five minutes entering tonight, a plus-seven in those five minutes with 15 points scored. Against the Spurs, the lineup wasn’t amazing but it showed promise, generating open looks for Porzingis and giving Luka a more open lane.

Despite the lineup’s result in those final three or so minutes of the first half, the process is what mattered. That process has felt better in the last two wins, as the Mavericks are starting to finally figure out who their best players are, who they play best with and riding those lineups more consistently.

Against the Raptors on Saturday night, no bench player played more than Wright and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 19 minutes. On Monday night against the Spurs, Kleber and Wright were both over 25 minutes off the bench but no one else hit 20. Hardaway has been under 20 minutes in each game, Jalen Brunson has gotten shorter spurts and the starters have been pushed a little harder. After 11 games of mixing, matching and tweaking, this feels like something real to keep building on. Dallas certainly has holes on its roster, but it feels mitigated a bit when players like Curry, Kleber, Wright and Finney-Smith are getting as much time as possible next to the Luka/Porzingis duo. Those four offer the Mavericks their best combo of shooting, playmaking and defense, even if Wright was a little off against the Spurs.

Curry had four assists and maybe a few more if Porzingis canned a few extra shots. Slowy but surely Curry’s great pick and roll game has shown up and having him run those with Porzingis while Luka can space the floor with his shooting and passing makes things much easier for the Mavericks starters. Finney-Smith had a huge night and while his shooting won’t be repeatable, I’ve long given up the chase for something better on this roster — Finney-Smith just flat out does things that no other wing on this Mavs roster can do. All five Mavs starters had a positive plus/minus.

More of this, please. More Curry getting chances with the ball in his hands, more consistent minutes for Kleber and Wright — less for Hardaway. Dallas obviously can’t throw a perfect game every night, but they can give themselves the chance to win if they just keep playing their best players more often together. Funny how that works.

  • I’m truly at a loss for words on how to describe Luka Doncic’s excellence. Is it possible to have a casual 42-point, 11-rebound, 12-assist triple-double? Because that’s what that felt like. Luka was 14-of-27 overall and 8-of-13 from the paint, continuing his masterful scoring near the rim. At this point if you’re an opposing defense that doesn’t trap Luka in the pick and roll, you’ve failed. And not just trapping in the fourth — Luka demands it all game. He’s just unstoppable in the pick and roll right now, being patient and using his size to probe his way closer and closer until he gets the shot he wants. Entering tonight, Luka was scoring 1.16 points per possession as the pick and roll ball handler, good for the 92.8 percentile in the league. He’s shooting 46-of-87 (52.9 percent) in those plays, drawing free throws almost 20 percent of the time. There are 14 players in the league who have shot at least 80 times as the pick and roll ball handler this season. Only two of them after shooting above 50 percent from the field. It’s Luka and Damian Lillard. Those pick and roll numbers only went up tonight for Luka. He’s absurd.
  • I was really happy for Finney-Smith’s career night, scoring 22 points and nailing three 3-pointers. This is the type of game that analytics people and coaches will point to and yell “see, this is what happens when he makes shots.” Everything else is there for Finney-Smith to be a great role playing wing. He rebounds like hell, defends his ass off and keeps the ball moving on offense, which is a truly underrated skill for someone in Finney-Smith’s role. It’s just the shooting that holds him back from being an absolute bonafide starter. Good for Finney-Smith and while the Mavericks won’t get nearly this level of production on offense from him going forward, it’s a good reminder of what could be while he keeps rebounding and guarding the other team’s best player.
  • There was a sequence in the first half where Hardaway missed a pull-up two badly and then followed that up with a wild, out of control drive that resulted in an easily called offensive foul. “Here we go,” I muttered to myself, bracing for the Mavericks to give the game away by relying on Hardaway too much. To my surprise, after that offensive foul, Hardaway was immediately sent to the bench. Progress! Hardaway didn’t see the floor after that untill the second half and only played 15 minutes. There’s no banishing Hardaway to the phantom zone due to his contract, but if Rick Carlisle keeps playing him with a short leash, that’s the next best thing.
  • Porzingis finally made some threes, going 4-of-9 from deep. There was even a very pretty and somehow rare Luka and Porzingis pick and pop that Porzingis splashed in during the second half. Porzingis is still feeling his way through games, almost thinking too much in regard to what he needs to do. It’s understandable with the long lay off and the new role on a new team. In New York, Porzingis was the alpha and got to take whatever shot he wanted. Now he’s playing off an elite playmaker for the first time in his career and while you’d think that’d make things easier, old habits die hard. For example, Porzingis had an awful driving, contested two after he passed up an open three pointer during the Spurs rally in the fourth. He just needs to take those shots the offense is creating for him, even if that means he’s less of “the guy” than he was in New York. Let me be clear: I don’t think Porzingis doesn’t want to accept a lesser role from New York, not at all — he clearly wants to make it work. It’s just taking time to iron out the kinks in his game. It’ll happen and there were glimpses tonight where it really sung for the Mavs starters and Porzingis. Side note: I really like the side pick and roll action with him and Curry. Related, here’s a nice action the Mavs ran after halftime with Curry and Porzingis working together to get Porzingis an open three. Curry is the only non-Luka Maverick with the gravity and playmaking to create this look.
  • The Mavericks defense is a conservative scheme that drops the big back on pick and rolls to hopefully entice the opposing team to take inefficient, long twos. It’s a sound strategy on paper but against the Spurs it was a little wonky. San Antonio thrives in the mid-range and it was a little disconcerting to see the Mavericks let the Spurs walk into shots they were more than comfortable making. Sure, there aren’t many teams like the Spurs left in the league, but I would have hoped for a bit more trapping with Dwight Powell and Kleber.
  • Dallas had nine players shoot a three tonight and seven of them made at least one, four of them at least two. The Mavericks are going to live and die with their role players making shots, especially as defenses become more and more fearful of what Luka can do in the paint. I don’t know how consistent it can be, given the track records of most of the role players, but if the Mavs can get one more role player aside from Kleber to pop a near-ish career high mark from three, the offense is going to stay elite. And Luka won’t strangle anyone.
  • Brunson has scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the past two games in just 22 minutes. I expect there to be a call for his playing time to increase with that production, but I almost wonder if limiting Brunson a tad is helping him more, to a degree. He can be a bit overwhelmed on defense and his game predicates on him having the ball in his hands a good amount, which those two things are intensified with extended burn. I like Brunson a lot and don’t necessarily want him regulated to spot bench minutes every night but right now I like the shorter bursts of minutes. Feels like it gives him a bit more focus. Either way, I’m starting to really like the Wright/Brunson combo off the bench.