The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Denver Nuggets Friday night, 106-75. Will Barton led a balanced Denver effort with 17 points. Luka Doncic was the high point man in a putrid effort from the Mavericks with 16.
The Mavericks were at a disadvantage before they even got to tipoff. Playing on the second night of a back to back in the altitude of Denver, the team was again without Kristaps Porzingis. Nikola Jokic was questionable for Denver all the way up to game time, but after participating in shootaround, he was cleared to play.
In what is becoming a troubling trend, Dallas was sluggish out of the gate once again, quickly giving up a double digit first quarter lead. With all the aforementioned forces working against them, there was simply too much working against Dallas to dig out a second big comeback.
There wasn’t much to highlight from a Dallas team that looked flat across the board, but Luka did lead the team with 16 points. For Denver, a characteristically balanced attack from the starting five, led by Will Barton’s 17, was enough to put Dallas away by the third quarter.
Now, some additional thoughts...
Out of gas
Coming into the game, Dallas’ 3-1 record belied how often they’d had to fight tooth and nail to get back into games. Including tonight’s loss, Dallas has trailed by 20 or more in three of their first five games. They have a winning record in spite of that, but having to climb out of a hole that big night in and night out is not the blueprint for a successful season.
This game started like last night’s against the Spurs; going down big early. For a brief shining moment, it looked almost as if Dallas was going to find a way to equal the eventual success of that Spurs matchup, but it wasn’t to be. After trailing by as many as 11, Dallas took a fleeting one point lead with just under 10 to go in the second quarter. That was essentially the moment you could see them team just run out of gas. They slumped to an eight point deficit at half. To open the third quarter, Jokic picked up two fouls in a minute, giving him foul and putting him in serious foul trouble. Denver coach Mike Malone took a risk by leaving him in, but Dallas couldn’t take advantage. Denver ran away with it from that point and never looked back.
A lineup emerging
During the lone stretch of positive play from Dallas that lead to the slimmest of leads, it was again Jalen Brunson providing a spark. So far this season, Kidd has seemed insistent on keeping Brunson and Maxi Kleber coming off the bench, but it was those two getting some run with Luka in the second that closed the gap.
The word heading into the season was that Powell was a starting five by request of the remaining four starters. With Maxi providing more spacing, better defense, and another shooting option for Luka, it seems like there must be a point, potentially soon, when a change gets made in the starting five. Maxi was part of the starting five to start the second half, but it wasn’t at the expense of Powell, but rather Reggie Bullock. It’s a slow process, but it may be the first step towards reducing Powell's minutes, especially once Porzingis returns.
Against the Spurs, Luka looked off. He was only 3-of-8 in the first half. Fortunately for Dallas, he found his stroke in the back half with an 8-of-11 shooting half. No such rebound tonight.
Luka started slow and finished slow. A team worst minus-32 and only 5-of-18 from the field. Beyond the bad shooting numbers, the eye test was maybe even worse. Back to backs are never going to get any easier, but it’s not ideal to see Luka laboring so much this early in the season. Unlike last season when Luka had to play himself in to game shape after the season kicked off unexpectedly early and caught the team off guard, he’s come into this year with a full offseason of team activities and even more game action than usual due to the Olympics.
Hard to say what the cause of Doncic’s slump is, but for a team that depends more on him than perhaps any other squad in the league depends on a single player, any deficit in Luka’s game is going to trickle down to the rest of the lineup.
Here’s our lastest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.