The moment didn’t last long. It was a “go to the bathroom and you’ll miss it” type sequence. But it was there and it was noticeable in the third quarter of the Mavericks’ dominant win against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon.
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis took over the game for a brief, one minute stretch. Luka started things off with a step-back three to push the Mavs’ lead to nine points. Another possession or so later, Doncic found Porzingis on the pick and roll where he got fouled and made two free throws. It was action that involved Porzingis moving, catching and getting a shot up, rather than standing still around the three-point line watching.
On the Lakers’ next possession, the Mavs forced a quick turnover and Doncic got it up to Porzingis at the top of the three-point line. He calmly let Anthony Davis fly by before canning his third triple of the game, forcing the Lakers into their second timeout of the third quarter. Dallas was up 81-67 and it felt like game over. It was, again, just seven total possessions between the two teams. A small moment in a much larger game.
Yet, it was the type of moment that raised my eyebrow and made me re-think a lot of things. It made me wonder how good the Mavericks can be and what a final form of this current group looks like. We haven’t seen Doncic and Porzingis be on the same page much of this season. A combination of Porzingis’ 20-month layoff, learning a new role and a new scheme has led to a lot of awkward moments. But for those handful of possessions in the third quarter, the two looked right. Funny enough, the previous game where both of the Mavs young stars looked good together was against the Rockets last week, another impressive road victory.
So that’s two wins against Western Conference powers, both on the road and both by double-digits. Is that this Mavericks team ceiling? If Porzingis and Doncic can regularly get on the same page, where does this stop? Are the Mavericks more than a playoff upstart? I really don’t know, but it’s wild to think about. The Mavericks have the best offense in the league and it still feels like they are at times scratching the surface of their potential. That potential was showcased for a glorious few possessions in the third quarter on Sunday afternoon. It could only be the beginning.
- First thing that needs to be noted — Delon Wright saved this game for the Mavericks. He has a habit of doing this! As odd as it is to see Wright be a bench player once again and as frustrating as it is to see his aggressiveness sometimes wane over the course of a few games, no Dallas guard can do the things he can do and that was never more evident this afternoon. Dallas slept-walk through the first quarter and were absolutely on the path to getting blown out before Wright stepped in and changed the pace. The Lakers were thinner than usual at guard, with no Avery Bradley. That meant a more time for Rajon Rondo (18 minutes) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (24 minutes), which meant more time for guys that Wright can absolutely get past off the dribble. Wright had his best game of the season with 17 points on 12 shots, three made three-pointers and nine assists to a fantastic zero turnovers. He also chipped in four steals, as the Lakers woefully overmatched perimeter players tried to run offense when LeBron James or Anthony Davis weren’t touching the ball.
- The bench in general saved this game as well. Justin Jackson combined for 14 minutes in the last two games and pops off the bench today for 15 points in 15 minutes, making 3-of-5 from deep and moving exceptionally well without the ball. Wright and Jackson had some fun chemistry together and they hooked up for my favorite play of the game where Jackson makes a nice adjustment coming off a screen to back-cut Dwight Howard after Howard extends himself too much to stop Jackson from catching the ball behind the three-point line.
- Yesterday I wondered how the Mavericks can keep this type of scoring distribution up — the Mavericks third-leading scorer on the season entering today was Tim Hardaway Jr. at 12.9 points per game. That mark is one of the lowest of any of the contending teams third scorer, except funny enough, the Lakers. As great as Luka is, I worry that the Mavericks relying on him to enable god mode every game could eventually bite them in the ass. That’s why it was so nice to see four other Mavericks score at least 15 points against the Lakers. Luka still had a dominant night, but just 27 points instead of 40. That feels more sustainable and the Mavericks season really feels like it lives or dies on their role players making shots. At this point, we know Luka is going to (mostly) bring elite play every night. If Dallas can get one or two guys a game to break out, they’ll be hard to beat no matter who the opponent.
- Big fan of the Mavericks defense in the third quarter, even if the Lakers bailed them out a little. It’s much easier to guard LA when Danny Green is running pick and rolls and LeBron is standing and watching Anthony Davis aimlessly dribble around the free throw line. Credit the Mavericks for turning up the heat a little bit compared to their normal conservative defensive scheme and force the ball into the hands of less capable playmakers. Dwight Powell especially redeemed himself after getting swallowed up by Davis in the first half — his effort in the third quarter was huge.
- It wasn’t just better effort for Powell on defense, his offense was big too. This might have been Powell’s best offensive game this season and he finally finished plenty of pick and roll opportunities that have strangely not been there for him so far this season. It was also nice to see Powell in the dunker’s spot more, working off Luka and Kristaps pick and rolls in the third quarter. Dallas’ offense can get a little predictable at times and when Porzingis and Powell are mixing up their screening duties over the course of a quarter or half, it can really make it tough for defenses to key in on a certain action or play.
- Please put a video screen on my tombstone, looping the Luka step-back three on LeBron forever until the sun melts.
- The Lakers tried really hard to throw Luka off his game. They have plenty of long arms at the rim and can play the passing lanes well. They doubled him a lot in the pick and roll and did everything they could to make other Mavericks beat them. So it’s pretty impressive that not only did those other Mavericks beat them, but Luka still got his with 27 points and 10 assists (and seven turnovers). This is the type of game that showcases why his step back is so valuable, even when we might groan when he falls in love with them too much. The Lakers were committed to keeping him from living at the rim, so being able to rock that defense with long range bombs is crucial. As Luka sprinkled in some step-backs in the third quarter, he was able to maneuver to the basket a little easier as the Lakers tried to take away his three. So even if he’s missing them, the threat matters more. It helps unlock the rest of his game, even if he admits at times he can maybe take a few less.
- Here’s my one nitpick — the Mavericks transition defense drives me nuts. I don’t have the data in front of me, but it feels like every game the Mavericks give up an easy basket because they’ve somehow gotten themselves into a mismatch after a miss or a make. The opposing team will just beat Dallas to the other end of the floor and without any action, they’ll have a Mavericks small guarding a big in the paint or a Mavs big on an opposing small on the perimeter. Almost every time, it’s an easy basket. It happened again multiple times in the first half, as Anthony Davis found himself being guarded by Luka or another perimeter player, despite two of Porzingis, Powell and Maxi Kleber being on the floor. This simply cannot happen, especially when it’s happening without any action from the opposing team. Here’s an especially egregious example at the end of the first half:
Admittedly, this was after a scramble play where the Lakers came up with the loose ball. But even then, Wright still finds himself on LeBron in the post while Kleber guards non-shooter Rondo 30 feet from the basket. Dallas needs to be smarter about recognizing these situations — Kleber should be running at LeBron to get Wright off of him and you live with Rondo being open for an above-the-break three. Luckily, this is a fixable thing. Hopefully the Mavericks can work out these kinks soon.