The Mavericks played a wild, back and forth game but came up short in a heartbreaking 95-94 loss to the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night in Sacramento. A big 13-point final period from Kristaps Porzingis put Dallas in position to take home a win, but a last second three from Chimezie Metu sealed Dallas’ fate and pushed the Mavericks back to two games below .500.
Kristaps Porzingis finished with 24 points and seven rebounds. Jalen Brunson led Dallas with 25 points and six assists. De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento with 16 points.
Frank Ntilikina should start
Upon the imminent return of Reggie Bullock, Luka Doncic, and Tim Hardaway Jr., decisions will have to be made on who is going to start games. It is hard to take anything away from games where four replacement players are on the floor at times, but one of the things we can absolutely concur is that Frank Ntilikina should start alongside Doncic in the backcourt when he returns.
A noticeable difference between the Luka-less Mavericks and full-strength ones is the increase in ball movement when Doncic does not play. At first glance, it’s easy to attribute a lot of this to Doncic, who has been near the top of the league in usage rate his last three years. While some of it is his ball-dominant style, the blame can also be put on not playing him alongside another player who is able to create their own shot. Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Hardaway are all, for the most part, catch-and-shoot players. While Doncic has an elite ability to find such shooters, the ball sticks a lot when he doesn’t have another player to throw the ball to on the perimeter and play off of.
Brunson and Ntilikina have started the last five games in the backcourt together, and the Mavericks have looked great with them on the floor together. They both have an ability to create their own shot and handle the ball, and while Brunson does it at a far higher level, Ntilikina’s offensive skill is good enough to allow his defense to complement the starting lineup more than Brunson’s offense would.
Josh Green is becoming a rotation player
Josh Green has looked good in the minutes he has gotten over the last few games, and tonight was no different. In a big third quarter sequence, he made a layup, blocked a shot, then threw it ahead to Jalen Brunson for a layup that brought Dallas within two. He is truly a strange player, and does almost everything except dribble and score pretty well. He has shown exceptional vision, active hands, and great positioning during his extended minutes in the last week. The only problem he has right now is that his offensive skill set is very raw. He still is not a great shooter, nor does he look to shoot, and he does not have a tight enough handle to create space from the defender for a good shot. Until his offensive game develops, it’s just hard to see him in the permanent rotation when the Mavericks get all of their players back from health and safety protocols.
Replacement players are fun, but reality is setting in
Theo Pinson’s 10-day contract is now expired, and the NBA has reduced the quarantine period for asymptomatic players from 10 days to five days. Reggie Bullock has already come out of protocol, with other key Mavericks to follow suit in the coming days. This means that cuts will have to be made, and while we all want to see Isaiah Thomas revive his career in Dallas, the reality is that most, if not all, of the replacement players will not be with the team much longer. Jason Kidd has already cut their minutes, with only Theo Pinson and newly signed Thomas getting limited minutes as 10-day players against the Kings.
On the other hand, the forced shake up of the Mavericks roster has been refreshing, and the games have been much more entertaining with the new signees. The Mavericks have needed a roster shakeup for quite a while now, and this last week or so of basketball has given us a glimpse into what new faces could do to turn the Mavericks season around.
Guys like Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, and even Pinson, have shown they still have NBA value, and with roster decisions on the horizon, the Mavericks should seriously consider them in an attempt to upgrade their bench. As for the other 10-day heroes, it was fun while it lasted, but it’s almost time for the honeymoon to end and the Mavericks to get their mainstays back on the court.
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