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Dallas Mavericks Report Card: Games 22-26

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Dallas has won four out of five after losing six straight.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown:

The Dallas Mavericks finish this stretch 4-1 and improve to 12-14 on the season.

On the last report card, I raised the question of whether or not the Mavericks would be able to turn their season around in the next five games. I said to do so, they would need to win at least three or four of the aforementioned contests. They did, and in doing so, gave way to a collective sigh of relief all over Dallas.

The quintet opened in Atlanta where the Mavericks had a 15-point lead going into the final three and a half minutes, only to have it cut to three with 42 seconds left. A huge tip-in from Kristaps Porzingis on the next Dallas possession gave them what they needed to secure their first win in almost two weeks, ending their six game slide. Dallas then returned home to play Golden State twice. One was an embarrassment; a 30-point loss to a team without any players over six foot seven. The other was a break; a two-point win in a game where a controversial out-of-bounds no-call allowed the Mavericks to save it in and swing it to Luka Doncic for a three that put them up seven with 44.5 seconds remaining. The Mavericks then defeated Minnesota at the American Airlines Center, and once again disposed of Atlanta in a one-point clutch victory on Wednesday night. Luka Doncic is now 3-1 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Trae Young.

The second game against Golden State featured a career-high tying performance from Luka Doncic when he posted 42 points and 11 assists. It was just enough to overcome Steph Curry’s 57, the second-highest scoring output of his career.

Dallas had everyone healthy for the entirety of this stretch, and started the same five in every game. This is the first report card where I can say that.

It wouldn’t be a report card without a random Dwight Powell highlight, so here it is:

Grade: B

I know what you’re thinking: the Mavericks had their backs against the wall, with everything going wrong, and they turn around and win four out of five and only get a B?

Yes.

The Mavericks did show incredible resolve, don’t get me wrong. But if Maxi misses this three:

And Steph comes down and adds to his already historic night, or Danilo Gallinari hits this shot:

We are talking about a completely different ball game. The Mavericks, despite winning, still have holes.

Three times over this span the Mavericks had a double digit lead in the fourth. Zero times they won by double digits. They were up by as many as 25 points against Minnesota and won by five. Being young and inexperienced has a lot to do with that, but blowing these substantial leads over and over has to strike a chord at some point.

They were better, although anything would have given them higher than an F. Solid and lucky would be two words to describe the Mavericks over this stretch. They caught a few breaks, their offense looked much improved, and their defense wasn’t great but they got stops when they needed to.

They still have to find the defense they played earlier in the year, and for the absence of that and an inexcusable first loss to Golden State, they get a B.

What I Learned: The Mavericks success still depends on Kristaps Porzingis

The former New York Knick has been frustratingly inconsistent this year, most notably on offense, but more importantly on defense. During this last five game stretch, he registered a game with five blocks, and another with five fouls. Why the tallest player in the league would ever record five fouls is beyond me.

I still believe that the Mavericks can and will have the most success, as currently constructed, with Kristaps starting in the middle. He just simply has to be better on the defensive end.

Here I have inserted a graphic with four players, all with similar numbers, aside from one category: defensive rating. Can you guess who they are based on just these numbers?

Let me help you out: Player B is Anthony Davis, and it is no surprise that he has the best statistics out of the group. Players C and D, respectively, are John Collins and Pascal Siakam, and have similar numbers to Player A, except they are far better defensively. Player A is Kristaps Porzingis.

It is easier to describe why Porzingis is so bad on defense rather than bombard you with stats. He jumps far too often, resulting in him fouling players that are far smaller than his seven foot four frame. He is second in the league among players seven feet or taller in fouls per game, behind rookie James Wiseman. When you are taller than every single player in the league, except your own teammate and a two-way player in Boston, you have no excuse for jumping when a player shoots a layup on you.

When he doesn’t jump, he doesn’t even put a hand up. There are times, like this:

Where he half-commits and then decides not to influence the player’s shot at all. In close games, plays like these matter.

The offense will come, but he has to be fundamentally better on defense and protect the rim without fouling if the Mavericks want to make a run in the postseason. If he can become a force maybe not as dominant as Anthony Davis, but at least a percentage of what Davis is, then the Mavericks are a threat.

Key Stat: 121

This is the Mavericks offensive rating over the last five games, per NBA.com.

This is good. Since Feb. 3, the Mavericks are fifth in the NBA in offensive rating. They have also had everyone healthy during that period of time. If you can put two and two together, you get 121.

Luka has had 12 straight games of 25 or more points. Kristaps is averaging 22 points over his last five games on 38 percent from three. Tim Hardaway Jr. is averaging 18 points on 43 percent from three over the last five. The Mavericks as a whole are functioning on a different level offensively than they started the year on. Why have their games been so close? They are second to last in defensive rating since Feb. 3, with a rating of 123.3.

The offense has been looking like it did a year ago, when they had the best offense in NBA history. If Dallas can remember what it was like playing defense 15 games ago, they will find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoffs in no time.

One big question for the next five games:

Can the Mavericks take care of business, and possibly make a statement?

The Mavericks upcoming schedule features New Orleans, Portland, and Detroit at home, then down to Houston for a rematch with the Rockets, and back to Dallas for a game against Memphis.

All of these teams are under .500 as of Feb. 10, except for Portland. Winners of three straight, the Mavericks have a huge opportunity to move up the Western Conference standings and re-establish themselves firmly in the playoff picture. All of the games except Portland we expect Dallas to be able to win, and if they can take care of business, and possibly make a statement victory against Damian Lillard and company, their report card grade might not be done trending upward.