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The Mavericks showcased the blueprint for how they can win with this team in the playoffs

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Sure, it might require Luka to be amazing, but he almost always is.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Monday night? When the Mavericks couldn’t get over the hump against the Clippers due to the non-Luka Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis starters dragging the team down? I do! I wrote about it, how the Mavericks are good and still have work to do.

What a difference 48 hours make.

Dallas beat LA comfortably Wednesday night and — surprise — Luka Doncic was out-of-his-mind amazing. Also a surprise, or maybe not if you think about it, the Mavericks supplemental starters did really well. I’m not sure Wednesday’s win changes my thoughts on what I wrote Monday entirely, but it did provide the blueprint for this specific version of the Mavericks to win games:

Have Luka Doncic be god. Get just enough from everyone else. Simple, right?

If this makes sense, Doncic’s final line somehow underscores his impact on this game. Yes, 42 points, nine assists and six rebounds is a monster game, but also a combination of points, rebounds and assists that aren’t too rare for Doncic, who drops these dominant games almost regularly at this point. What made tonight so special was not just the opponent, the Clippers, but the way he seemingly couldn’t be taken off the floor. Doncic got help, but he also literally scored 40 percent of the Mavericks points, while also contributing more with his passing.

Doncic was good on Monday night. Not this good, but still decent. So what was the difference, besides Doncic being from “good” to “supernova”? Take a look at his fellow starters.

On Monday, the trio of Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Richardson combined for 17 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-20 shooting. Wednesday night, the trio of Kleber, Richardson and Tim Hardaway Jr. (promoted into the lineup due to the absence of Finney-Smith) scored 41 points on 15-of-29 shooting. They also chipped in a total of 23 rebounds. Basically the opposite of what happened on Monday.

This is perhaps why this version of the Mavericks can be so frustrating to watch, despite the fact that we’re now in year two of this franchise being a solid playoff team — it doesn’t take much to beat elite teams when you have a player as good as Luka. The team just needs something out of those other guys. Not even star-worthy performances, just some help. Kleber only scored 12 points in 41 minutes, but it was an explosion compared to his three points in 35 minutes on Monday. Again, 12 points in 41 minutes is not an All-Star. But with Luka, it’s enough.

  • It’s hard to keep coming up with ways to describe Doncic’s brilliance. So here are some fun trends. 1. After shooting 43.5 percent from three in February, Luka was at 34 percent in March before Wednesday’s 6-of-11 mark. That’s good! While 34 percent isn’t amazing, it’s still a significantly better number than what Luka shot the previous two seasons. It’s good to see Luka keep his shooting up from February and not see it crater. 2. The difference in Doncic’s efficiency was solving the Clippers rim defense. Here are his short charts, first from Monday and then from Wednesday:

See the difference? In the paint, outside the restricted area, Doncic dominated in the win compared to Monday’s loss. Ivica Zubac continues somehow to torture Doncic at the rim, so it was awesome to see Doncic adjust on Wednesday and use the in-between game to generate offense. Doncic getting to the rim less and shooting more from mid-range isn’t necessarily a winning formula, but Doncic’s ability to be productive from that area is crucial in high-leverage matchups like these past two games. These games had playoff-life intensity, and in the playoffs, defense will force you out of your comfort zones. For Doncic to still thrive and lead the Mavericks to a double-digit win, while petrifying the Clippers with various dimes from the free throw line area of the floor, was delightful. A masterful night.

  • The biggest difference in the starting lineup’s performance was Tim Hardaway Jr.’s insertion. With no Finney-Smith, Hardaway stepped in and continued his hot shooting. He didn’t have a bananas night, but 15 points and 3-of-7 from three will do in a rock fight like this game. It’s clear Hardaway for Finney-Smith made the offense hum a bit more, as the Mavericks shot 50 percent from the floor and over 40 percent from three, a rare occurrence for this team this season. The surprising thing was how well the defense still held up, with everyone seemingly being as locked in as they’ve been all season. If the Mavericks can hold water on defense with this lineup, it’s going to need further consideration down the line. Hardaway’s shooting is just too valuable to this Mavericks team.
  • It was really nice to see the bounce-back game from Richardson. He was on a roll until Monday night, where he dropped a major six-point dud. This was like the total opposite. Richardson was everywhere from tip-off to the final buzzer, a frenetic 39 minutes filled with impassioned defense, gutsy effort and just the right amount of offense. Richardson isn’t going to be a high volume shooter, but if he can get this team 14-15 points on efficient shooting, it’s huge. He had three steals and one block, which has not been a common night for Mavericks guards in recent memory.
  • This was a lousy offensive game for Kristaps Porzingis, but it goes to show why this site and others have harped so much on his defense in the last month. Despite Porzingis’ offensive turnaround at the start of February, the team still needed more as his defense continued to languish. This post All-Star break Porzingis looks night and day different. There is zero chance the Mavericks could have gotten winning basketball out of a 5-of-14 Porzingis shooting night four weeks ago. It was such a great sight to see Porzingis engaged throughout the night, despite shots not falling. He was great at the rim and outside of Zubac doing his typical Zubac things, the Clippers couldn’t do much in the paint. Kawhi Leonard was 9-of-21, Lou Williams was 2-of-10. Porzingis guard the rim well, making it easier for the Mavericks perimeter defenders to stay home, which helped limit LA to just 9-of-32 on defense. The Mavericks make so much more sense when Porzingis is right on the defensive end — he’s a true difference maker when he’s his normal healthy self on that end.
  • Without a big-minutes starter in Finney-Smith available, I was very curious to see how Rick Carlisle would adjust. Would he go deeper into his bench? Try some funky new lineups? Nope. He just rolled out a five man rotation and rode Doncic to the promise land. Five Mavericks played off the bench, but two of them combined for eight minutes and Wes Iwundu, Willie Cauley-Stein and Jalen Brunson played 11, 12, and 16 minutes respectively. Every starter played at least 34 minutes, with Doncic and Kleber playing over 40 and Richardson playing 39. It was needed for the win, but Carlisle has been riding this shortened rotation ever since the team became fully healthy after the COVID outbreak. Dallas desperately needs to find a way to reduce the minutes strain on these guys as the season progresses. If the Mavericks can’t trade for a difference maker at the trade deadline, they at last need to find a way to flip James Johnson’s expiring contract for someone that can give them a consistent 15-20 minutes. Maybe they’ll find that on the buyout market.