The Dallas Mavericks finish this stretch 0-5 and fall to 8-13 on the season.
Last report card, the biggest question was whether or not the Mavs would get the players in health and safety protocol back. They did, but, unfortunately, it did not translate into wins.
Game 17 opened this stretch in Dallas with a rematch against the Denver Nuggets. Another clutch loss in a game where Luka Doncic dropped a 35 point, 11 rebound, 16 assist triple double upped the Mavericks’ losing streak to two. They then headed out west to play a 2 game series against Utah; in which they got swept in convincing fashion by a Jazz team missing their All Star guard, Donovan Mitchell. The losing streak sat at four. A 15-point third quarter lead was squandered in game 20 to Phoenix and Dallas lost a fifth consecutive game. Game 21 featured the first “none” on the injury report, and Dallas was 10 seconds away from snapping their longest losing streak since March of 2019. Then, like clockwork, Devin Booker happened. Six in a row.
The Mavericks did finally have a complete team for the first time this year, but only for one game. Maxi Kleber only played 18 minutes in his return, so we still have yet to see a game with the expected rotation.
Not a lot of good came from this bunch of games, but Dwight Powell did have a career highlight:
Dwight Powell just murdered Frank Kaminsky.— Nick Angstadt (@NickVanExit) January 31, 2021
That's it. Career over. It was nice tank. pic.twitter.com/8FtegH3GYP
It’s tough to play good teams when you’re not at full strength, but there is no excuse for a lack of effort. The inability to find the will to compete every night was put on full display during this span. Luka Doncic said after the second blowout loss to the Jazz that, “It’s looking like we don’t care, honestly.” There was a visible change in effort in the two games against the Suns, and Doncic even acknowledged it by saying these last two games were “way better.” Despite the improvement in effort, the Mavericks could not muster up a single victory, and it leaves Dallas in a dark place.
The Mavericks now sit in 13th place in the West, with questions about their personnel, coaching, and their “want” to win. Kristaps Porzingis has seemingly regressed over the last five games (playing in four), averaging only 16.3 points on 36.9 percent from the floor and a dismal 25.9 percent from deep on seven attempts per game. Take out his 24 point performance against the Suns and Josh Richardson averaged seven points, going 0-for-7 from distance in three games since his return. Maxi Kleber only scored two points in his return on Monday night.
The bottom line is this: when you have an All-NBA player and a player only months removed from averaging 30 points and nearly ten rebounds a game in The Bubble, that team should be able to compete every single night. Putting effort in on a game-to-game basis should go without saying, and yet here we are having these discussions. It is not entirely the fact that the Mavs didn’t win a game during this stretch, but the pathetic and repetitive manner in which the majority of the losses occurred that earned Dallas an F.
What I Learned: The Mavericks need time for the team to get acclimated to a full roster; time that they may or may not have.
On one hand, the Mavericks are already almost 30 percent of the way through the season and sit in 13th place in the West. Five games below .500, Dallas finds themselves in an uphill battle to snag a playoff spot in one of the most competitive conferences in NBA history. Their season could hang in the balance in the upcoming games.
On the other, the Mavericks are only 30 percent done with the season. Less than halfway, having only played one game with their entire roster, they find themselves in a rough patch. Although in a tough spot, there is plenty of time to right the ship and with the expansion to ten playoff teams, there is no reason to panic.
I currently reside in the camp of the latter, and think the Mavericks will get it right soon enough. All of this losing has overshadowed the fact that Luka Doncic is still playing at an MVP level. He just recorded his seventh consecutive game of 25 or more points against Phoenix on Monday. The guys who were in health and safety protocol sat in a hotel room in Denver for weeks, so of course it is going to take time for them to gel again. Kristaps Porzingis is the wild card, as he has been wildly inconsistent and has even raised questions of whether or not he can be a legitimate second option on a title team. If players other than Luka can start hitting shots and Maxi can get back into a normal rotation within the next two games, Mavs fans will be able to stop holding their breath by the time I write the next report card.
Key Stat: 1
This is going to be short and sweet. You can look at the Mavs’ awful 31.7 percent from three over the last five games and say they need to start making shots. You can look at the 38 rebounds per game over the last five and come to a verdict that they need to play harder and hit the glass more. You could even find that they are 24th in defensive rating since January 25th and complain about the set back on that end of the floor. But I don’t want to focus on any more negatives. I want to highlight the only stat that brings hope to the rest of the Mavericks season: 1, the amount of games Dallas has had a full roster for.
By far the best game they played over this stretch came at full strength. If it wasn’t for a last second Devin Booker dagger, I could be talking about how the Mavericks have already taken the first step to getting back on track. They have picked their foot up, and all they have to do now is put it back down and continue to put one foot in front of the other.
One big question for the next five games:
Will the Mavericks be able to turn their season around?
Dallas opens this upcoming stretch in Atlanta, then comes back to Dallas to play the Warriors twice, the Timberwolves, and the Hawks again. The Hawks are currently 10-10, the Warriors 11-9, and the Timberwolves 5-15. These are all very winnable games, and it is not farfetched to say that if Dallas doesn’t win at least three or four of them, their season could be in jeopardy. I believe they will, but this is one of the most important stretches for the Mavericks in the foreseeable future. When you have your best player, who just so happens to be a top-10 player in the league, visibly and audibly upset after losses, you have the most important prerequisite for winning: a hate for losing. Luka Doncic will not let this team skid for much longer, and he can’t if he wants to carry this team to their second consecutive playoff appearance.