In the midst of a team slump, the space between games can feel like a millisecond or an eternity. Both can be equally painful. The Dallas Mavericks are not only experiencing a slump, they’re also giving MFFLs everywhere a roller coaster ride.
Last week, in a span of six days, the Mavericks gave everyone the widest range of results and emotions. A last second loss, a convincing win (nearly blown in the final moments), a catastrophic home blowout, and a flashy star-studded last minute win. Exhale.
If they plan on gathering momentum it happens in this upcoming five-game home stand. But before we get there, here’s the good and the bad from last week.
GOOD: Brunson breakout
We’re perhaps a bit belated in our praise of Jalen Brunson, who is simply having a career season when the Mavericks badly need consistency from role players. It’s tough enough to have the kind of lay-off Brunson experienced after a season-ending injury that held him out of the NBA bubble. But to add sitting out four games for health and safety protocols as he tries to carve out a new role, there would have been understanding if Brunson came out cold.
Since returning he’s been locked in, averaging 12 points per game and connecting on 44-percent of his three point attempts. In last week’s four games, as the Mavericks went 2-2, Brunson posted per game averages of 12 points, five rebounds, and three assists while going 4-of-10 from three on the week.
He’s been steady as the second unit point guard, reliable playing next to Luka Doncic, and was a key part of a few fourth quarter units this week. As the Mavericks look to right the ship, it will be the consistent play of guys like Brunson that will be the reason why.
BAD: Leaving your lane
On an episode of The Lowe Post podcast early in the week, ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Tim MacMahon discussed the disastrous Mavericks losing streak. Part of that, according to Lowe, has been the whining of Luka Doncic on missed calls — which is likely a fair assessment.
Well, that didn’t sit nicely with owner Mark Cuban, who was a guest on “Disruptors with Jemele Hill and Cari Champion” on Vice TV:
here's the clip of mark cuban telling zach lowe "fuck you, you don't know shit" in response to lowe talking about luka being one of the whiniest players in the league toward the refs. pic.twitter.com/GOttOiXe50— Josh Bowe (@Boweman55) February 5, 2021
The sound bite plays better than it does in print. Cuban knows his audience, knows how to grab those golden clicks, and more than anything wants to be a trash-talking entertainer. It’s nice to see an owner willing to defend his young star. But can’t you defend him without going for the throat of all-around nice guy, and one of the smartest NBA writers we have, in Zach Lowe? Oh well.
GOOD: Powell won’t stop
At times it has been tough watching Mavericks’ big man Dwight Powell try to regain the athleticism and tough he had prior to his Achilles injury. It’s clear he doesn’t have the lift he once had; and for a player that earned his paychecks mostly as a vertical threat, that can feel like an impossible transition.
Regardless, something that hasn’t gone away is Powell’s effort. It’s one of the main reasons he’s looked to as a leader on this team, and why Rick Carlisle has always praised the former second round pick. Saturday night’s display was a great reminder:
Much like Brunson’s return from injury, Powell even had a great setback this season due to COVID-19. But that hasn’t changed Powell’s effort level. His role isn’t clearly defined yet — he even had two DNP-CD’s in the middle of the week — but that hasn’t changed his engagement either. If the rest of the Mavericks’ role players had the energy of Powell, this Mavericks team could be near unstoppable.
Speaking of effort...
On Thursday night, on the second night of a back-to-back, the Mavericks couldn’t miss in the first half against the Golden State Warriors. Only problem is they also couldn’t get a stop. It spelled doom for the second half, when shots went cold and the Warriors continued to score at will.
After the game — a 147-116 home loss — the Mavericks had a lengthy meeting in the locker room which delayed media availability. It turns out this was because the team sat down and immediately watched the third quarter, where they gave up 36 points to the Warriors and were chased out of the gym. What were the looking for exactly? Defense, or the lack thereof it. The Dallas Morning News reporter Brad Townsend asked Jalen Brunson what specifically they need to work on with their defense.
“We’ve got to play it,” Brunson replied.
The Mavericks offense is not clicking consistently enough for them to simply not play defense. They got by last season at times by outscoring opponents, but that’s not the reality they are currently living in. Hopefully this is the final time the Mavericks have to watch themselves to realize they can’t take a night off.
GOOD: Maxi Kl-utch-er
It is evident in his return that Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber was hit hard by COVID-19. He gave all-out effort all week, but at times was gassed and couldn’t find his legs. In Saturday night’s thrilling win, thankfully, Kleber was ready for the moment.
Were there some questionable defensive decisions trying to corral human torch Steph Curry? Yes, though no one on the Mavericks had much success in that department over two games. Kleber had a return to form Saturday offensively, which all came together in the final moments:
Doncic, who displayed all of the fun jaw-dropping star power that is required to take down Curry when he’s on one like he was Saturday, drew the double team late and without hesitation went to Kleber. With 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, the exclamation was in the dagger (his fourth three of the night, and second late clutch made three of the season). Maxi Kleber welcome back and take a lap!