The Dallas Mavericks (9-4) have now hit the toughest part of their schedule so far this season. They hit the road for a brutal four-game stretch where they first face the Phoenix Suns (10-3) twice, then two straight against the sixth place Los Anageles Clippers.
Jason Kidd’s squad will look to carry the momentum gained from their Monday night win against the Denver Nuggets, a thrilling game that also had stomach-churning ended when Luka Doncic limped off the floor in the final seconds with the game in-hand.
Here is what we’ll be watching for tonight:
Replacing the playmaking-sized hole
Luka Doncic’s sprained left ankle is absolutely the story here. Many of us had earmarked this tough November schedule as a time to truly learn what this confusing Mavericks team is made of — and though it’s disappointing we may not get those answers for any part of this road trip, Doncic’s longterm health is most important.
According to reports by both Marc Stein and DMN’s Callie Caplan, the Mavericks plan on playing it by ear with Doncic:
The Mavericks are treating this on a game-by-game basis for now, I'm told, and as @CallieCaplan just reported Dončić has indeed accompanied the team on Dallas' flight to Phoenix this afternoon for two consecutive games against the Suns, followed by two in LA against the Clippers. https://t.co/6eGZsx6Buw— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) November 16, 2021
In the short term, the Mavericks will turn to Jalen Brunson to run the show. The fourth-year guard has been dynamite this season, averaging 28 points, 8.5 rebounds and three assists in his short stretch as a starter this season. Even though he played alongside Doncic in those games, Brunson has shown capable of not just being a scorer but also running the offense this season.
Brunson’s move to the starting lineup however does raise the question of who can run the second unit? A well known hole in the roster, the Mavericks are hurting for another ballhandler. Do those duties fall on Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke? Does Kidd allow for Tim Hardaway Jr. to go scorched earth and hoist a barrage of threes? This will be key in tonight’s game and forever long Doncic remains sidelined.
Porzingis building momentum
After missing five games due to back tightness Kristaps Porzingis has not just been solid in his return, but has elevated his game into what many were hoping for when the Dallas Mavericks made the trade. In his five games back, where the Mavericks have gone 4-1, Porzingis is averaging 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a block. Not just that, he’s posting those numbers with shooting splits of .512/.419/.895.
In the postgame podcast EIC Kirk Henderson threw out that this might be the stretch of ball KP has played since the 2020 NBA Bubble. He said it was a hot take, but I think it’s just correct. His defense may not be at its pinnacle, and there are still concerns both about keeping him engaged and healthy. But there is no doubt how refreshing it is to see Porzingis string together several terrific outings — most ending in Mavericks wins.
The hope now, in light of Doncic’s injury, is that KP can maintain this level of play. There are paths here that either see him having trouble without Luka’s playmaking, or forcing the issue and regressing from his efficient play.
Facing elite defense
The Mavericks have played five games against teams currently in the top ten of Defensive rating this season: Denver Nuggets (3rd), Chicago Bulls (7th), Miami Heat (8th), and Boston Celtics (10th). While they’ve gone 2-3 in those matchups, a few were blowouts and one win required Luka Magic. That’s all to ask, how do the Mavericks handle elite defense?
Most of those teams above have a laundry list of lengthy wing defenders capable of disrupting an entire perimeter offense. The Mavericks really struggled with aggressive and active play, particularly against the Bulls and Heat, and had moments against the Celtics. Enter the Suns, fourth in Defensive rating, who may have a broader selection of talented wing defense than any of the other prior opponents. The Mavericks will already need to make adjustments for the missing Doncic. Finding ways to break this defense down will be a tall task.
How to watch
Tip off is set for 9 PM CT, and can be watched on ESPN or locally on BSSW.