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Dallas Mavericks Report Card: Games 9-17

The Mavericks are playing better than their record indicates.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown:

The Mavericks finish this stretch 5-4 and are now 10-7 on the season.

In the last report card, I questioned if Dallas was going to be able to put it together and get an early-season signature win. They did just that in game 13 of the year during a home win against Denver. Luka Doncic had 23 points and 11 assists, Kristaps Porzingis had 29 points and 11 rebounds, and the Mavericks outscored the Nuggets 32-18 in the fourth quarter to improve to 9-4. The first 47 minutes were great, but in the final minute Doncic went up to block an Austin Rivers layup, and after the play was over, Rivers accidentally rolled up under him, spraining his ankle and knee.

In those three games, the Mavericks were 0-3, and lost every game by 8 points or less. The Mavericks momentum as a team had come to a halt, until the Slovenian All-Star made his return against the Clippers on Tuesday and got Dallas back in the win column.

Kristaps Porzingis has been balling over his last seven games. 26 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 0.9 steals on 52.8/40.5/94.3 percent shooting splits is what he’s been giving the Mavericks on a nightly basis over that stretch. Not only do his numbers look great, but he has passed the eye test as well. He’s sealing in the paint well, taken advantage of smaller players, has not forced too much, and has looked incredibly mobile on defense. He is shooting 76.5 percent in the restricted area since November 10th and has been the Mavericks most reliable scoring threat down the stretch as of late because of this.

This stretch was opened by another Luka Doncic last-second game-winner against the Celtics:

It was closed by a come from behind victory against the Clippers. In between, the Mavericks had good wins against the Pelicans and Spurs, a bad loss to the Bulls, and three disappointing fourth quarters, resulting in losses to the Suns twice and the Clippers on the front end of their two-game series.

Jalen Brunson suffered a foot or ankle injury in game 17 and his status for the Saturday matchup against Washington is still up in the air.

Grade: B

All in all, the Mavericks are improving. Dwight Powell played less, which makes his minutes a lot more palatable, and Kristaps Porzingis has been the guy the Mavericks traded for. Jalen Brunson established himself as one of the premier backups in the league, and has been the most consistent player for the Mavericks all season. It’s hard to win without your best player, and the three game losing streak Dallas sustained sandwiched between two quality wins can be attributed to just that.

A lot has been made of the Mavericks missing open shots, but with all the looks they’re getting, their offense is going to skyrocket when they start going in. The Mavericks are third in the NBA in open shot frequency, which are shots taken when a defender is 4-6 feet away (33.6 percent), but 25th in effective field goal percentage (47.5 percent) on such shots. The rumors about the new ball affecting shots should not be taken lightly. There are balls that are better than others and getting used to a new one can take quite some time. I have played basketball my whole life and some tournaments I played in would have balls that just did not feel right in my hands, resulting in them being harder to shoot and handle. The Mavericks shots will start falling, and when they do, this team will be hard to stop.

Despite the improvement, the Mavericks still have a long way to go. The most glaring area of weakness is that of another creator. This will not be fixed unless the Mavericks make a move. Something they can fix though, is poor coaching decisions; the biggest one being lineup changes.

The starting lineup still does not feel right. Willie Cauley-Stein has just been awful and the only person who seems to think he has done well is Jason Kidd, given Cauley-Stein’s repeated opportunities. Because of the various injuries, the lineup has been in flux, but now that Maxi Kleber is back, the rotation of bigs needs to be tightened up a lot. In addition, there were other poor coaching choices during this span of games that prevented a higher grade, like going to a zone down the stretch against Phoenix which resulted in three open three point shots, two of which went in, burying the Mavericks late.

Key Stat: 0

The Mavericks have zero losses in clutch games when Luka Doncic plays.

This is contrasted starkly by their six wins in such games, emphasizing a change in poise down the stretch. They definitely aren’t perfect; they blew an eight point lead in the final minute to Los Angeles on Tuesday. However, the Mavericks have more fight in them than they have had in years past. The overtime game against the Clippers is one the Mavericks of the last six or so years just don’t win. For Dallas to come out in overtime and hold the Clippers to just a technical free throw as their only points was impressive, especially given they had just been outscored 11-1 in the final two minutes of regulation.

Some of this has to do with the command Doncic has on the game and the efficiency Porzingis has in the fourth quarter (shooting 55 percent in the fourth this year), but a lot of it has to do with the defense. The defense has just been improved. Maybe some of it has to do with the decreased scoring league-wide, but the rotation and matchups are visually a lot better. The Mavericks allow 105.1 points per 100 possessions in fourth quarters of games they win, while scoring 112.7 points per 100 possessions in the same fourth quarters. Here is what a former Mavericks staffer had to say about the new defense under Jason Kidd:

One big question:

Can the Mavericks pick up steam?

The Mavericks are a bit beat up right now, but they last played on Tuesday and don’t play until Saturday which is a full three days of rest. Their next upcoming stretch features Washington, Cleveland, the Pelicans twice, the Nets, the Grizzlies twice, and the Pacers. Every one of these games is winnable, and if the Mavericks don’t miss Jalen Brunson for too long, this will be a good opportunity to create some space in the Western Conference standings while also adding quality wins to their resume.