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Dallas Mavericks Report Card: Games 38-44

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The Mavericks are slowly but steadily improving

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown:

The Dallas Mavericks finished this stretch 3-4 and fall to 23-21 on the season.

In the last report card, I wondered how high the Mavericks could climb in the standings given their upcoming schedule involving teams directly in front of them in the West. Their climb was weak and short-lived, as they passed the Spurs for seventh and then immediately fell back to eighth after dropping two games in a row.

This stretch opened up with a two-game home series against the Clippers. After losing the first game by 10, a heroic 42-point effort by Luka Doncic carried Dallas to a 105-89 victory in game 39 of the season. Great team defense was a focal point and this was the second time that Dallas has held the Clippers under 100 points this year (while wearing their green jerseys). Dallas then flew out west to Portland, Oregon for another two-game series, this time against the Trailblazers. It was another split series for the Mavericks, who failed to convert down the stretch in the first game, then blew out Damian Lillard and company by 40 in the second. A 20-point win in Minnesota was their last victory before losing two straight against the Pacers and Pelicans.

The Mavericks traded for JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli at the trade deadline, and Redick could prove incredibly useful off the bench as a spot up shooter. He is battling a heel injury right now, and his timetable for joining the team is unknown.

Luka Doncic did not play against Indiana or New Orleans, and Kristaps Porzingis did not play against the Pelicans either. Neither are listed on the injury report for their game on Monday.

Grade: B

A full letter grade drop after Dallas had been trending upwards the previous 20 games. This seven game cluster was really interesting for a lot of reasons, the most intriguing being the slow and low key transformation of Porzingis turning back into the player he was becoming in New York. In his last six games, he is averaging 11.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, up from his averages of 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the year. Although he scored less than 15 points in three consecutive games, he followed that up with 29 and 31 point outings against Minnesota and Indiana. The most important statistic of his, however, is that over his last 10 games, he has shot 50 percent from the floor, 41 percent from three, and 84 percent from the free throw line. It is so important for the success of this team that he makes his shots because some nights if he misses a majority on limited attempts, the offense loses momentum. He has had nights where his offense doesn’t show up but his defense does, and vice-versa. Some nights everything comes together though, like against the Pacers, where he recorded 31 points, 18 rebounds, and a block, including seven offensive rebounds. He looked more aggressive, and although he got blocked, this plays give me hope that he is becoming less afraid to go strong to the rim, similar to what he used to do in New York:

Doncic has been very good, but the reliance on him to orchestrate the offense and guide this team is becoming more and more apparent. The Mavericks found themselves down by four with 10:15 to go against the Pacers, and just did not have enough stability offensively or defensively to keep Indiana from extending their lead. Dallas was outscored 25-14 over the final 10 minutes and the lack of leadership from Doncic not being active was all too evident on the court.

Despite the decrease in grade, I think the Mavericks improved overall during this span of games. Their split in the series against Portland and LA showed an ability to bounce back in a big way against quality opponents and Rick Carlisle’s (and his staff’s) ability to make adjustments game to game. These two things are of highest importance in the postseason and it is encouraging to see evidence of them as we close in on the home stretch.

Porzingis’s continued improvement should give Mavericks fans and “trade KP” enthusiasts some hope that he can and will be the second star next to Doncic. Although inconsistent, it’s important to remember that although he may be 100 percent physically healthy (which he might not be either), he most definitely is not 100 percent mentally, and if you watch his old Knicks tape, you can see the clear difference. Little by little he is piecing his game back together, and come playoff time, I expect to see 25 points, 10 boards, and two blocks a night.

Going 3-4 in this stretch prevented them from being higher than a B.

Key Stat: 39.1

This is the Dallas Mavericks three point percentage since the All-Star break, per NBA.com.

Good for fifth in the league since the stoppage, Dallas has turned their early shooting woes around in a big way. Pre-All-Star break Dallas ranked 25th at 35 percent from deep, and everyone remembers Doncic’s sub-10 percent start from beyond the arc. The two biggest contributors to Dallas’ turnaround have been Luka himself, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Maxi Kleber. Of players that have taken 50 or more threes since March 8th, all three rank in the top 25 with regards to percentage, and Kleber (9) and Hardaway (12) are in the top 15.

Dallas takes a lot of threes, they are ninth in the league at 37 a game, and it is no surprise that making more of them has helped them win games. The addition of Redick should help this number continue to rise, and despite him having an off-year, the looks he will get from Doncic should raise the Mavericks’ percentage as well.

One big question for the next five games:

Can we see a game where Doncic and Porzingis play well together?

It has been a little while since these two have had coinciding great performances. They have had great games without the other playing too well, but a game in which they both perform at the highest level has not happened recently. With their next five games being at the Thunder, at the Celtics, at the Knicks, at the Wizards, and against the Jazz, there is plenty of opportunity to make this happen. None of those teams have any good matchups defensively for Doncic and Porzingis except Utah, so I fully expect to see Dallas’ stars take advantage. In addition, the Mavericks are going to have to win some of these winnable games to start moving up the standings to avoid the play-in games.