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What to make of the Mavericks after 3-straight road losses

The road — and no Luka — hasn’t been kind

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

With one game remaining on an early-season four-game road trip carrying heavy implications, the Dallas Mavericks are what they are. It’s hard to accurately judge the Mavericks’ three-game losing skid against two of the best teams in the Western Conference too harshly thanks to the absence of Luka Doncic.

Still, there are some noticeable takeaways. The team has only broken the 100-point threshold once without Doncic, and, despite exceptional individual contributions, the offense has found ways to stumble and falter. Despite the longest losing streak of the season, head coach Jason Kidd sees some positives.

“We’re learning to play without Luka,” Kidd said. “This team was built around Luka and with Luka out, we’re learning how to play. I think it’s a great situation to be in. It’s not a negative. To be able to take the Western Conference Finals [champions], the Suns, to mid fourth quarter — we have the lead. We’re learning how to win without Luka, and I think that’s positive. There’s no negative. We would always like to win, but it’s not easy to win in this league, especially on the road.”

It’s impossible to say that the Mavericks haven’t competed against the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers. Dallas has held leads of eight, five, and nine points in the three games, respectively. Those leads were merely conciliatory, though, as the result was the same each time. The Mavericks collapsed when the game was on the line.

It’s not just their late game struggles that are alarming on the road trip. The Mavericks’ shooting is below their season average. Overall, Dallas is shooting 41.3 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from deep. Those marks put them in the lower echelons of the league over the past three games.

In the first game against the Clippers, the Mavericks struggled mightily with their shooting. Dallas shot 41 percent on field goals — on par with their recent slumping numbers — but they hit just six of their 30 three-point attempts, 20 percent.

While it’s impossible to single out one player for bringing down the Mavericks’ shooting percentages Sunday, Tim Hardaway Jr. had a particularly rough outing. He went 2-of-12 on the night, including 1-of-4 from deep.

If there are some positives to take away from losing, it’s that Kristaps Porzingis is playing his best basketball since the NBA Bubble more than a season ago. With Doncic out, he’s stepped up and into the role of the team’s go-to offensive option.

He’s averaging 23 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, one steal, and 1.7 blocks. He’s also shooting 49 percent overall. In his last two games, he’s shooting 58.1 percent from the floor. If there is a downside, his outside shooting isn’t great. Other than going 3-of-6 in the second game against Phoenix, he’s 5-of-17 from downtown on the road trip.

“I’m grateful for the support staff we have around us — the coaches and everybody giving me confidence,” Porzingis said. “I think I’m being effective out there for not only scoring but getting my teammates involved.”

Even with Porzingis playing well, the Mavericks are struggling without Doncic. They’ve been in every game, but it’s impossible to say if they would have won if Doncic was on the floor. Still, he gives them the best opportunity to get into the win column nightly.

With a quarter of the season almost come and gone, the Mavericks have one more game to play during their pivotal road trip. Dallas hasn’t submitted its injury report for Tuesday’s game with the Clippers, as of this writing, so Doncic’s status isn’t known. Regardless as to whether he can play, this trip is an early bellwether of what may be.

In his history as a head coach, Kidd has cobbled together sub-par records and hovered around .500 for his career. In his time with Dallas, he’s taken a roster that ran one of the most prolific offenses in NBA history and dragged it through the mud. The Mavericks have a chance to redeem their road woes, capping their trip with a win. If they don’t, they return home with a 9-8 record.

“We’re putting ourselves in a position to win games, we just can’t get a stop at the right time or we can’t make an open three,” Kidd said. “That will happen. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”