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The Mavericks are stealing games they don’t deserve and it’s awesome

Dallas escaped with another ugly win, which is something they have to do now if they want to be a playoff team.

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Mavericks don’t have to apologize to anyone for how they win. Just take them and run.

After squeaking by the Orlando Magic at home on Wednesday night, that marks the second time Dallas has gotten a win it probably didn’t deserve. When you’re an up and coming team in the brutal Western Conference, that’s OK! Hell, it’s basically required to get through the gauntlet of a conference the West is.

To sum up just how much the Mavs pulled this win out by the skin of their teeth, here is the play-by-play after Luka Doncic scored to make it 107-102 with 2:31 left in the game:

  • Jonathan Isaac hits a mid-range jumper
  • Luka misses a step-back three
  • Markelle Fultz misses a three
  • Luka misses a shot in the paint
  • Aaron Gordon scores a layup
  • Dorian Finney-Smith turns it over
  • Aaron Gordon offensive foul
  • Luka turns it over
  • Aaron Gordon offensive foul
  • Seth Curry misses two free throws
  • Nikola Vucevic misses a three pointer at the buzzer.

Read that again. Read it a third time, really. The Mavericks managed to draw back-to-back offensive fouls, one of the most subjective calls in the game, in the final minute. They had more turnovers than made shots in the final two minutes. And they won.

There are a laundry list of concerns the Mavericks have coming out of that game and frankly, it’s OK. Dallas is playing with house money this season, a team with high internal expectations but without the heavy burden of some of the more veteran laden squads in the conference. Dallas wants to make the playoffs, of course, but if it doesn’t it’s OK — Luka is 20, Kristaps Porzingis is 24. If it’s not their turn this season to bring playoff basketball back to Dallas, it will be very soon.

But. BUT. If it is their turn this season, these are the wins you have to pull out of a hat. It helps when you have a 20-year-old who plays like an MVP. The Mavericks are nothing if not extremely interesting, huh? What a welcome relief.

On to the notes:

  • Luka was magnificent in the third quarter, scoring in the paint at will and contorting the Magic’s defense with the pick and roll. The Mavericks truly looked dead in the water up until that point, where behind Luka they went on a huge run to take their first substantial lead of the game. It reminded me of those nights during the Dirk era when the Mavs just had nothing for whatever reason and Dirk dragged them over the finish line because he was the clear best player on the floor for both teams. What was particularly fun about Luka’s night tonight was how succesful he was in the pick and roll with Dwight Powell. While there weren’t a lot of lobs from Luka to Dwight, the threat of Dwight’s rim runs petrified the Magic into giving Luka room to work with in the paint. Luka made fives shots with Dwight screening for him, as Luka kept the on-ball defender on his hip, Powell kept the help defender honest and Luka poked and prodded his way to the bucket. It was beautiful. This is what Powell brings to the table that the Mavericks were sorely missing in the first few games he was injured.
  • Luka was the star, but Justin Jackson might have saved the game. He scored a quick nine points when he entered the game late in the first quarter as the Mavericks were floundering. Jackson didn’t do much after that — he finished with 11 points total and just 16 minutes — but it was enough. Without that spark, the game could have gotten really ugly, really quick.
  • More credit where credit is due, as Tim Hardaway Jr. made 2-of-5 from three and was in the game for important stretches of the game where the Mavs made a run. I still don’t know if I would call it a great game, as Hardaway took his traditional share of questionable shots. But he made his spot-up looks and the Mavericks desperately need that. He also had a gorgeous assist on the break to Jackson.
  • OK, now the bad — the Mavericks were on two days rest, last playing Sunday at Cleveland. The Magic played and lost last night against the Thunder in Oklahoma City and hadn’t cracked 100 points in a game all season. There really is zero excuse for the Mavericks to look like the tired team on a night like tonight, especially on Seats for Soldiers night, which usually provides an additional boost of energy. The Mavericks were flat all night save for a spark in the second and third quarters against a Magic team that was in a rough way. Despite being zero threat to score from deep (Orlando shot 6-of-24 from deep), the Magic still found a way to shoot 48.7 percent overall from the floor. The Mavericks defense just didn’t offer much resistance inside the three point line and couldn’t keep the Magic off the offensive glass. It felt like the Magic were getting off the floor twice for rebounds before the Mavs could get off the floor once. Just a really dispiriting effort, bailed out by Gordon’s brain-dead turnovers in the final moments of the fourth quarter. Kudos to the Mavs for stealing it, as mentioned above, but sheesh.
  • Part of the reason the Mavericks just didn’t look right was because Jalen Brunson, Delon Wright and Seth Curry combined to play about 25 minutes, went 1-of-8 from the floor and scored five points, all five coming from Curry in the first six minutes of the game. Orlando is big and rangy, with Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Al-Farouq Aminu and Michael Carter-Williams all being athletic and long-armed defenders. Burnson and Wright’s games are predicated on pushing the tempo and getting into the paint and there was just nothing they could do against the Magic’s athletic defense. Every time Wright or Brunson attempted to get to the rim, they were met by pterodactyls in the lane. Just a lousy matchup for those two, which explains why they didn’t play all that much. Curry should have had more of an impact with his shooting and Luka’s ability to get to the rim tonight but the strange season for Curry continued. Against Cleveland on Sunday, Curry had his best game of the season with 13 points, four assists and three made 3-pointers. Outside of that, he’s been mostly quiet, not really filling it up with Luka as much as you’d think. When Curry checked out of the game, he didn’t see the floor again until seven seconds left in the game, where he came in ice cold, got fouled and missed both his free throws. Just absolutely brutal. Curry is too good and too important to this roster to be as invisible as he’s been and it’s baffling that he hasn’t been able to reproduce what he did during his first go-around in Dallas which was with a considerably worse roster. I’m not sure if he’s still hurting from his preseason bumps and bruises, if he’s lost a little faith from the coaching staff but it has to get sorted out if the Mavericks want to make a playoff push.
  • Late in the game, the Mavericks offense died on a vine as the tempo slowed and the Magic realized they could just throw all their attention at Luka. With Brunson and Wright ineffective, Dallas closed the game with Luka as the only playmaker next to Finney-Smith, Hardaway, Powell and Kristaps Porzingis. The Magic didn’t care at all about Hardaway and Finney-Smith and pressured Luka into a turnover and then forcing the ball out of his hands for Finney-Smith to turn it over (although he appeared to be fouled). That’s the danger of playing Luka without a secondary playmaker, it makes it much easier to key in on him as the Mavericks wings don’t exactly strike fear into the heart of a defense.
  • Even though Finney-Smith had the turnover late, he still proved why he’s oddly indispensable to this team and roster. Simply put, no other wing on the team cando the little things Finney-Smith is capable of doing, whether that’s getting to loose balls, rebounding or closing out to shooters. He only scored four points in 29 minutes but felt he needed to play those crunch time minutes. Time will tell if his lousy shooting eventually catches up and overshadows all the other good things he does, but the Mavericks have no choice but to ride it out until that happens, given their alternatives.