The Dallas Mavericks finish this stretch 2-3 and are now 30-24 on the season.
In the last report card, I wondered how long the Mavericks would ride their winning streak. This was answered quickly and abruptly as the 13-win Houston Rockets ended Dallas’s season-high winning streak at five games.
This cluster of games opened with that loss in Houston, when the Mavericks gave up a 13-4 run in the final 2:03 of game time and ultimately fell 102-93. A huge bounce-back victory the next night versus a Giannis-less Milwaukee team marked only the third back-to-back scenario in which Kristaps Porzingis played both nights. Luka Doncic and Porzingis combined for 53 points and 26 rebounds against the Bucks. DeMar DeRozan was too much for Dallas to handle three nights later, as he hit the game-winning shot with just 0.5 seconds left on the clock to cap off his 33 point night.
Now 1-2 in their last three, Dallas hosted Philadelphia on the second night of another back-to-back situation with hopes of evening that record. No such balance was achieved, as the Mavericks were pummeled 113-95 on their home floor. Despite playing the first back-to-back against Milwaukee, Porzingis did not play against Philadelphia.
Dallas now saw themselves sandwiched two games behind Portland for that coveted sixth seed, and just 1.5 games ahead of eighth seeded Memphis, who they played Wednesday night. The Mavericks made some plays down the stretch to keep themselves in it against the Grizzlies, but the way in which they pulled victory from the jaws of defeat can only be described with one word: magic.
JJ Redick made his Dallas Mavericks debut against the 76ers, only making one of his seven attempts from the field. He followed that up with a 3-for-4 performance from deep against the Grizzlies, in 15 minutes off the bench.
Porzingis was phenomenal over this stretch, averaging 25 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks on 53 percent shooting. After he did not attempt a shot in the fourth quarter of the loss in Houston, he was asked why he wasn’t able to get involved in the fourth quarter:
"It's just the plays we're running. Happened before also."— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) April 8, 2021
A frustrated Kristaps Porzingis discusses his inability to get involved in the offense in the fourth quarter of tonight's game. #MFFL pic.twitter.com/uiQKZ8Be4y
The next night against Milwaukee, Porzingis scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the final frame.
The loss to Houston on April 7th may be the most painful loss the Mavericks have suffered this year. Riding a five game win streak against the team with the second worst record in the NBA, the Mavericks only mustered 93 points on 38 percent shooting. They looked like they were resting for Milwaukee the next day, and got beat when they took the Rockets for granted.
The Spurs loss was not pretty either. DeRozan torched the Mavericks in the second half and a decision to not force the ball out of his hands cost Dallas the game. Dorian Finney-Smith was matched up 1-on-1 against the Spurs guard, and one of the best mid-range players in the league made a mid-range shot to secure the victory. Although Finney-Smith is a fine defender, you cannot allow the other team’s best player to beat you if you can help it, and this meant forcing the ball out of DeRozan’s hands with a double team. Lapses in coaching like this will cost the Mavericks if they don’t fix them before the postseason, as a team’s best player will beat you more times than not if you give them the chance. We have seen this firsthand when teams don’t double team Doncic.
The offense as a whole was bad, with a 110.8 rating over the last five games. Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were main contributors, as both of them averaged around 10 points a game on 35 and 43 percent shooting, respectively, over this stretch. The defense wasn’t great either, as the Mavericks surrendered nearly 114 points per 100 possessions during the same span.
The reason the Mavericks aren’t getting a C or lower is because of the consistency of Doncic and the improvement of Porzingis over this stretch.
For Doncic, he scored no less than 23 points and played no less than 33 minutes in each of the five games. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, especially from distance, but he found ways to score. He played solid defense, averaging a steal and a block while committing less than three fouls a game. Doncic isn’t consistent because he’s great, he’s great because of how consistent he is. As one twitter user put it, his scoring is “never too low, sometimes really high, and always just enough.” You can expect at least 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists from him every single night, and there aren’t many players in the league who you can say the same for.
As for Porzingis, the slow but steady return of his offensive game to a pre-injury form was on full display over this stretch. He has 49 made dunks on the year, and eight of them came over the four games he’s played since April 7th. The 7-foot-3 sharpshooter is becoming more comfortable attacking the rim and is even making plays like off the dribble:
He also did the first drop step I have ever seen him do:
Along with his offense, his nearly 13 rebounds per game has helped the Mavericks clean the defensive glass at a 74 percent rate, good for 13th in the league over the last eight days. His continued development is timely as the Mavericks look to make a push out of the play-in tournament.
Key Stat: 13.6
This is Dwight Powell’s minutes per game over the last five contests, according to NBA.com.
A lot of Mavericks fans, including me, called for the reduction of Powell’s minutes to zero earlier in the season. We all look foolish right now, as Powell is in the midst of his most productive stretch of the season. Seven points, almost four rebounds and over a steal per game on 82 percent shooting is what Powell has given the Mavericks over his last five games. Many times, a new situation or rotation can make or break a player. As a starter, Powell was bad. In eight games, he averaged just five points on 38 percent shooting. He has clearly found a home in the 12-15 minutes per game range, and all of his minutes recently have been, as Locked On Mavericks host Nick Angstadt put it, “impactful.” Playing these limited minutes allows Powell to maximize his usefulness without overstepping his boundaries. The Dwight Powell we are getting right now will be an important piece in the postseason when extra possessions and hustle plays become that much more valuable.
One big question for the next five games:
Will the Mavericks (finally) break out of the play-in tournament?
As it was in 2011, the time is now for the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have a five game home stand coming up where they play the Knicks, Kings, Pistons, and then Lakers twice. Dallas currently is one game behind Portland for the sixth seed. Portland faces San Antonio, Charlotte, the Clippers, Denver, and Memphis over their next five, a significantly tougher schedule than what Dallas has in store. The games against Sacramento and Detroit are must-wins, as both teams are more than 10 games below .500. If Anthony Davis and Lebron James do not return to play Dallas in late April, the Mavericks must take advantage of a short-handed Lakers team. After Luka Doncic and Mark Cuban openly criticized the play-in format, the pressure is on to avoid it altogether.