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3 things we observed from the Mavericks 123-120 loss to the Hornets

Dallas once again fails to put away a team in the fourth quarter and lose in overtime.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks got off to a sleepy start on Saturday night in Dallas, and it came back to bite them in the ass. After climbing back into the game, the Mavericks gave it away in a 123-120 loss to the Hornets.

Luka Doncic was masterful once again, leading the way with 39 points, 10 assists and 12 rebounds. Unfortunately the offense stalled out in the fourth quarter after amassing a 12-point lead. The Mavericks couldn’t generate good looks, couldn’t close out possessions on the other end and came up short in overtime. Here’s what we noticed.

The Mavericks officially have a clutch problem

Entering tonight, the Mavericks had the 28th ranked clutch offense, scoring 90 points per 100 possessions in 66 clutch-time minutes this season. The NBA counts clutch time as a five point or less game with five minutes or less left in the fourth quarter. It got worse tonight.

After the Mavericks worked so very hard to battle back from a 20-point first-half deficit, Dallas had a 12-point fourth quarter lead. From that moment, the lead slowly trickled away as the Dallas offense went against everything it normally is — the team stood and watched Doncic, the movement dried up and Doncic got a little step-back happy. Sounds familiar right? This is becoming a trend for the Mavericks, a team that still needs to learn how to win games.

It has to be figured out. The Mavericks have the best offense in the league. A lot of that is thanks to Luka and he has the ball in his hands most of the game. The difference is, outside of clutch time, Luka runs lots of pick and rolls, the Mavericks set lots of screens, cut and generally move. For whatever reasons, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s Doncic getting winded down the stretch, all of that goes out the window. The Mavericks stand and watch as Doncic tries to create something out of nothing and that something is usually a contested 28-footer.

It didn’t help that the Mavericks couldn’t finish possessions on the other end either. Without Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks couldn’t guard the rim consistently and couldn’t get the rebounds they needed. Please shut up about Andre Drummond. This sucked.

The defensive 180 is what almost saved the game for the Mavericks

Dallas doesn’t even sniff a win tonight if their defensive effort doesn’t flip from the first half to the second.

Charlotte scored 57 points in the first half and generally got whatever they wanted at the rim. I was so worried about how the Mavericks would guard Devonte Graham beyond the three point line and it ended up being death by a thousand cuts in the paint instead. Dallas had zero energy to start the game, lazily switching off their man, letting the Hornets dump the ball into bigs being defended by the Mavs guards. When you switch on defense, you have to do it with purpose and aggression — not because it’s easier. To sum it up, the Mavericks went to a zone against the lottery-bound Hornets a few minutes into the second half. It felt like a white flag.

It looked like the Mavericks were doing it because it was easier. Due to them taking the ball out of the net so much in that half, Dallas’ offense suffered as well. They got some good looks, but mostly meandered in the half court and threw up some bad threes. In the second half, the pressure was cranked up, the Mavs stayed in front and played more quality defense. It also helped to have more Maxi Kleber, who started the second half in place of the mostly invisible Justin Jackson. Those misses led to much better offense and Dallas looked more like themselves. Well, until the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Credit to the players and Rick Carlisle for whatever come to Jesus moment happened at halftime that kicked things into gear. It (almost) saved the game.

Luka was MVP special.

Luka did his normal superhero stuff we’re becoming used to throughout the game — step-back threes, creative finishes around the rim, great passes. It’s wild how accustomed we are to a 29-12-10 stat line with a 20-year-old, but that’s where we’re at.

What really caught my eye about Luka tonight was his passing. He was absolutely on it passing the ball, especially to the corners where it felt like every other time down the floor he created a wide open look. Not only was he finding guys, but everything was right in the pocket. Dorian Finney-Smith had a rough start, otherwise Luka might have had 15 assists. Kleber made 4-of-8 from three and continues to punish teams who leave him in the corner and Finney-Smith perked up a bit in the second half with his shot. Props to Dwight Powell as well for greasing things in the second half with his typical heads up screening on and off the ball. Luka basically walked into a wide open transition three in the third quarter as Powell did his best Tyson Chandler impression on the break, clearing the path. His defense was, well, horrible. But he continues to show his value to the league’s best offense.

Come back soon, THJ and KP

It’s not a mystery to say the Mavericks desperately miss Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis, but tonight was a great summation of all the problems the Mavericks have without those two starters on the floor.

Porzingis has been elite guarding the rim and Dallas missed that tremendously in the first half as the Hornets waltzed to the rim. Powell’s defense, or lack thereof, is much easier to manage when Porzingis is swatting shots and straight-up preventing players from even putting a shot up near the basket.

The floor-spacing from both was also hugely evident. Powell’s rim-running makes so much sense when there’s another big forcing defenders out of the lane. With Hardaway out, that forces the Mavs relatively weak wing depth to be bumped up a spot — Jackson does not appear ready for a major minute role, Jalen Brunson is inconsistent and Delon Wright is much better going at his own pace, not being relied on to pour in points when he checks in. Curry is perhaps the only one truly equipped to handle the extra scoring burden.

Porzingis out also means more minute for Boban Marjanovic and, boy, it’s really tough to watch him try to move on defense. Boban played only three minutes tonight and the Mavs were outscored by eight in that short spurt, as the Hornets just roasted the flat-footed Boban in the pick and roll.

It was painful to watch the Mavericks down the stretch without their top shot-blocker.

Luckily Porzingis and Hardaway should be back soon, hopefully as soon as maybe Monday. The Mavs really need them healthy quick.

Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.