The Dallas Mavericks have been a delightful surprise all season, inching closer to their first playoff berth in several seasons. Luka Doncic and his merry band of Mavericks have done so well they’ve made postseason play alone a foregone conclusion, and thus pushing our expectations and demands even further.
That’s why, in following with a common thread throughout the season, when the team lost their grip on another close game Friday in the NBA Orlando Bubble against the Houston Rockets, the same hair pulling was fierce and the rage flowed freely.
Ah to have basketball back.
All is not lost, though, as the Mavericks have the opportunity to regain composure Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns. With a chance to officially lock in a playoff spot on the line, Luka, Kristaps Porzingis and crew will be all business. Here’s what we’re watching for:
Bracing for Booker
If you’d asked me to guess the damage Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker had done to the Mavericks over the years, I’d have closed my eyes and guessed he’s averaging near 30 in a string of Mavericks trophy killings. But his numbers, resting near 23 points, 3.5 rebounds and four assists in 11 games feel calming in some way. I almost tremble to mention he’s also shot 51-percent from three in those contests. Oh yes, there’s the good stuff.
No matter the history Booker is always capable of catching fire and completely flipping a game in just a quarter. The Mavericks and Suns split the two matchups so far this season — the second saw Dallas get absolutely torched by 29 points, with Booker posting 32 while shooting 60-percent from the floor.
It’s fresh on the mind that the Mavericks faced two of the most dynamic guards in the game Friday night in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and the Mavs defense put up little fight. Those two combined for 80 points.
Booker’s first game in Orlando, against the lowly Washington Wizards, saw him down 27 points (though his outside shooting was cold). The Suns may have a very slim outside shot at the play-in matchups, but the Mavericks simply cannot take a game for granted at this point. Bouncing back Sunday night starts with trying to shut Booker down.
Is Burke the bench?
Trey Burke appeared in his first game for the Dallas Mavericks and casually went 8-of-10 from three and posted 31 points. Right, right, just as we planned.
There were long stretches in the Orlando scrimmages where the Mavericks bench simply did not look ready to play meaningful basketball. With a list of injuries, yes, they are trying to make do.
Enter Trey Burke, jogging in off the street and looking like he’s been Dallas’ sixth man all season. The CAREER 34-PERCENT THREE POINT SHOOTER was simply electric off the bench. And while it was nice that both the Mavericks and Rockets mutually agreed to not play defense for the full 53 minutes of the game, Burke still had to put them in. And he did...nearly all of them.
So what now? To begin, Burke will need additional help from the second unit. The rest of the bench combined for 18 points Friday night. That won’t cut it. And when the bench is absence, the strain on the starters is clear, and they run out of gas like they did against the Rockets.
It remains to be seen if Burke’s performance was an anomaly. No, the expectation shouldn’t be for the undersized guard to show out to that level every game. But the Mavericks need a boost. And he might be it.
It’s well documented that the Mavericks have struggled in close games all season. To pinpoint the reason is likely futile, though we sure do try. It’s worth reminding ourselves that this is a young team, a team that has taken a giant leap toward relevancy this season, and just like most up and coming teams there are growing pains.
But it’s in these bounce back games where they may learn the most. The Mavericks, to their credit, have followed up a loss with another loss just six times this season. And never a three-peat. That’s nice to remember when suddenly the sky is falling.
The Mavericks will have plenty of opportunities for growth in Orlando. This game against the Suns, with Doncic and Porzingis and crew reeling from another close loss that seemed surely avoidable, is their next chance.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 8 CT and can be watched on FSSW.