On the eve of the NBA Trade Deadline, the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies met at the American Airlines Center Wednesday night. It was jut their second meeting this season, and the first appearance from both Kristaps Porzingis and Memphis’ rookie star Ja Morant.
The Mavericks were without All-Star Luka Doncic for the fourth straight game, as he continues recovery from a second sprained ankle. And as has been a recurring theme in Doncic’s absence, it was a Kristaps Porzingis feature presentation.
Porzingis, who has battled finding rhythm with his shot this season, has looked his most comfortable recently and it couldn’t come at a better time. Not only were the Mavericks without Luka Doncic (and Dwight Powell for the season), both Seth Curry and JJ Barea were also scratches for tonight’s game. For long stretches of the game Porzingis was fully carrying the offense, posting 24 points in the first half.
The Grizzlies though are a young, scrappy, athletic team that’s adopted a similar mentality of previous generations of Grizzlies squads. The teams were locked up for most of the first half, but it was in the third after Porzingis was sent to the bench from an elbow to the face that Memphis really opened the game up. The Mavericks simply looked awful, and the Grizzlies couldn’t miss — that sounds too simple, but it’s an awful recipe in an NBA game. Memphis led 100-78 after three, outscoring the Mavericks 41-22 in the quarter.
The Mavericks fall again at home 121-107.
Porzingis getting comfortable
There is a larger conversation to be had about Kristaps Porzingis connecting the non-Luka games with Luka ones, but there’s also no reason to panic. For now, it’s nice to see Porzingis string together effective performances.
In stretches during the first half — the first quarter in particular when he had 15 points while shooting 6-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-6 from three — he looked unstoppable. Working from the outside, then attacking eager closeouts, KP found looks at all three levels. And as has been the case all season he’s been effective on the glass, continuing a superb rebounding season.
Porzingis finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 10-of-20 from the floor and 5-of-11 from three, in a game where few others were consistently contributing. The Mavericks are deep in the dregs of the injury plague, and they really need everything Porzingis can muster. Hopefully health of the roster levels out, and Porzingis can carry this level of play over.
My Kingdom for a wing
If there were any thought the Mavericks roster is fine long term as-is, games recently should put that too bed. Primarily the depth (or lack thereof) at the wing positions. Nothing is so pressing that they need to sell everything to solve this by the deadline. But there is a definite cap on what this team can do because they don’t have the requisite depth off the bench behind Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith.
Look. I know. This isn’t fair. But also, nopleasestop. The Mavericks have taken a giant leap this season, and that means some of this roster is outplaying other parts of this roster. And that part that isn’t playing well? Not entirely their fault. They were realistically supposed to be on a fringe playoff team, not competing for homecourt.
The bottom line, though, is the Mavericks don’t realistically have a viable backup small forward. These things always get exacerbated when players are missing — Luka alone alters the gravity of the universe, and even missing key pieces like Seth Curry matter in this conversation. But for the Mavericks to take the next big step they need to fill a void.
A scary future to this division
It’s so exciting that the Mavericks have young stars and look to be taken seriously for years to come in the Western conference. What’s even crazier is the bottom of the division is coming along with them. It’s possible that if it weren’t for early injury trouble from Zion Williamson that three of the most exciting young teams in the West all hail from the Southwest Division.
The Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Pelicans have some scary young talent with front offices making smart decisions. These teams have had an up and down recent past, but all of the sudden they’re taking giant steps forward.
You mean to tell me Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram are all in the same division, all outpacing expectations? My head is spinning and I’m sweating. But it’s also very exciting for the Mavericks to be square in the center of the very exciting future of the league.
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.