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3 thoughts after the Dallas Mavericks hold on against the Orlando Magic, 130-124

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Above .500 for the first time in a month

Dallas Mavericks v Orlando Magic Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks won their ninth road game of the season, defeating the Orlando Magic 130-124. Luka Doncic led Dallas with a near triple double, scoring 33 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out nine assists. Nikola Vucevic scored a team-high 29 for Orlando in defeat.

All five Dallas starters scored a basket in the opening minutes of the game. After getting to the paint at will early, the Mavericks seemed unable to score consistently, particularly after Doncic went to the bench for his usual first quarter rest. Kristaps Porzingis failed to carry the Mavericks offensively, missing five straight shots. These misses resulted in good looks for the Magic on the other end, as Evan Fournier and Vucevic scored 23 points in the quarter. Doncic’s two late threes kept the Mavericks close, but Dallas trailed 33-29 after twelve minutes.

Threes fell with frequency during the second quarter for Dallas, as they slowly inched ahead after starting the period trailing. The Mavericks led by as many as eight during the frame but continued poor defense on perimeter shooters and Dallas not connecting on open looks allowed the Magic to close within three before the end of the half. The Mavericks took a 61-58 lead into intermission.

Quarter three saw the more talented Mavericks simply outpace the Magic, particularly after Fournier left the game for a chunk of time with a potential back injury. Porzingis hit two early threes, breaking a three-less stretch which dated back to Valentine’s Day. Those early looks crumbled the Magic’s defense a bit and Dallas proceed to pour it on. Orlando, however, just wouldn’t go away as they hit numerous threes of their own. Dallas should’ve ended the frame up more, but late quarter miscues along with Luka Doncic losing a shoe allowed Orlando to keep the game within single digits. The Mavericks entered the fourth up 95-86.

Dallas opened with four straight points, causing Orlando to call a quick timeout not even a minute into the quarter. The Mavericks proceeded to pour the points on the Magic but not content to blow a team out, Dallas let up just enough to where the game went on longer than it needed to as the Magic repeatedly tried to rally. The putrid Dallas defense let the Magic creep within five points after being up double digits, but there just wasn’t enough time. Dallas walked away with their 17th victory of the season, winning 130-124.

Now, some thoughts:

The Maverick bench continues to crush opposing second units

Do Jalen Brunson or Tim Hardaway have a 6th Man of the Year potential? Watching the Dallas bench go nuts against yet another team (50-to-37), I can’t help but wonder what narrative will emerge if Dallas continues their run into the second half of the season.

We’ve already talked about how good Brunson is and there’s no harm in doing it more. He’s awesome and opposing defenses likely have to game plan around him in some form. He attacks the basket relentlessly and is really fun to watch in transition. His shoulder shakes on the move are a delight. Hardaway is another monster, though he had a quieter game tonight.

Please hit open shots, this is getting silly

It’s likely not shocking to anyone that the Dallas Mavericks are dead last in the NBA in terms of converting wide open three point shots, hitting just 36.1% of looks according to NBA.com’s tracking data. They are due for a positive regression eventually because it’s the entire team that can’t hit. Porzingis, Brunson, Hardaway, Richardson, basically anyone that isn’t Maxi Kleber can’t connect on these looks Doncic is serving up. Tonight’s a night where he was clearly assist hunting and his teammates couldn’t finish the open looks from distance.

It’ll swing eventually, they get too many not to. But dang if it’s not maddening.

What is going on with the Dallas defensive assignments?

This may come off as nitpicking in a win but the Magic are missing so many people, the Mavericks should have blown them off the court. If the Mavericks are a playoff team, then some nitpicking of their play is fair game. I do no understand what the Mavericks are doing with defensive assignments almost every game. This is probably worth a longer article but I’ll get the conversation going.

Against the Magic, Dallas went with Dorian Finney-Smith on Evan Fournier and Maxi Kleber on Nikola Vucevic. Fournier had 26 and Vucevic had 29.

The continued assertion by Dallas that Finney-Smith is some kind of defensive stopper is something I don’t understand. He’s a fine help defender, as he’s very active off-ball. But he cannot navigate screens to save his life and gets beaten by single dribble moves. That’s okay, guarding guys off the dribble these days is hard. But what is the point of Josh Richardson? Wasn’t he billed as a stopper? Am I making that up? I saw the historical data on how well Finney-Smith guards James Harden but there isn’t another player I recall him really defending well.

Vucevic is an All-Star so the idea that Kleber is the guy to lock him up makes sense, but frankly, Maxi is not the guy we know from last year on defense. When Porzingis had to guard Vucevic, he did an excellent job bothering him with his length. Defending the distance shots is a slightly different story as the Magic were on fire and as long as Porzingis is there with a hand up, that’s all we can ask.

This sort of thing happens every game where it feels like the Mavericks are outsmarting themselves in terms of anticipating switches and such, but with drop coverage, that’s not what they do anyway. I’m very open to being wrong here, it’s just that in game, I do not understand it. They should’ve beaten this current Magic roster by 50.

Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.