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Dallas Mavericks Report Card: Games 45-49

The Mavericks are owners of a five game winning streak

NBA: Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown:

The Dallas Mavericks finish this stretch 5-0 and improve to 28-21 on the season.

In the last report card I wondered if we would see a game where Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis both played well. Not only did we get one such game, but we got two, back-to-back. They showed out early against Oklahoma City, with Doncic tallying 25 points and seven assists, and Porzingis filling up the box score with 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists, 2 blocks and a steal. The Unicorn showcased the aggressiveness he once displayed nightly in New York with this drive in the first quarter:

Two nights later they brought the same energy against the Celtics and Doncic finished with 36 points while Porzingis once again stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and two steals.

The stretch began with a four game road trip, the first game resulting in a 21 point victory against Oklahoma City that ended a two game skid. Dallas followed that up by completing the season sweep of the Boston Celtics in Boston with a 113-108 victory. The winning streak increased to 3 when the Mavericks defeated the Knicks in a grind-it-out, defensive showcase in New York, defeating the Knicks 99-86. Dallas traveled to the nation’s capital on the second night of their back-to-back and took down the Wizards, 109-87. This tied their season-high of four consecutive wins. As the Mavericks returned to Dallas, the best in the West awaited their arrival. Going into the game against Utah on Monday, the Mavericks had won four in a row, and the Jazz, nine. Without Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas defeated Utah, in what could be their best team win this season.

The JJ Redick trade will be known as the Nicolo Melli trade featuring JJ Redick, until further notice. Since Melli began logging minutes, the Mavericks are 5-0, he has started twice, recorded a season-high 10 points and eight rebounds against Washington, and won over the hearts of Mavericks fans everywhere.

Kristaps Porzingis missed Monday’s game against the Jazz due to a sprained left wrist, which he had apparently been battling since January. Though he’s playing tomorrow so who knows.

Luka Doncic won his second Player of the Week award this season, joining Dirk (4x) and Josh Howard as the only players in Mavericks history to win the award multiple times in a season.

Grade: A+

The Mavericks are playing their best ball of the season and it comes at the perfect time. As the season turns the corner for the final 23 games, Dallas finds themselves in seventh place in the West, three games ahead of eighth, and three games back of fourth.

The offense is a big reason for their success, and if you want an in-depth breakdown of how and why it works, Mavs Moneyball contributor Iztok Franko does an incredible job of that here. But even more than the offense, the Mavericks’ defense has established them as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. As Mavericks’ radio play-by-play announcer Chuck Cooperstein puts it, the Mavericks are “not just good” defensively, but “excellent”:

Over this five game winning streak, the Mavericks have maintained a staggering 101.7 defensive rating, good for fourth in the league since March 29th (per No team scored over 110 points against Dallas in that time frame and no Mavericks opponent shot better than 47 percent. In fact, if you take out the 46.9 percent shooting performance Oklahoma City had, the next highest field goal percentage by an opponent came with the Utah Jazz shooting only 42 percent from the floor.

That win against Utah on Monday was the defining moment of this stretch. If you can remember correctly (and if you can’t, I wrote about it here), the Mavericks were walloped by Utah in back-to-back games in late January. Although down players to Covid protocol, the Mavericks displayed no effort, and, as Luka Doncic put it, “It’s looking like we don’t care, honestly.”

They looked like they cared against Utah Monday night, playing some of their best defensive basketball of the year, maybe even in the last few years. Utah is second in the league in three point percentage at 39.5 percent, and made 26 threes against Orlando in their previous game. Dallas held the Jazz to just 12-of-44 from distance (27 percent), while also keeping their All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell in check, as he scored just 16 points on 6-of-23 shooting. Everyone who scored for the Mavericks registered 16 or more points except Dwight Powell (who only played 14 minutes). To make a heroic effort herculean, they did all this without Kristaps Porzingis.

Ket Stat: .777

This is the Mavericks’ win percentage since Dorian Finney-Smith returned to the lineup after his son, Aysen, was born.

Yes, life is all about finding inspiration, and it seems for basketball players they commonly find this in the birth of their child. After Fred Vanvleet of the Raptors had a child during their 2019 championship run, he was on fire, hitting over 50 percent of his threes en route to winning the NBA championship. A similar story with Finney-Smith, as he is averaging 11 points and five rebounds, along with shooting 50, 43.2, and 80 percent from the field, three point line, and free throw line, respectively. The Mavericks are 7-2 since he came back, and have won five in a row. He has an offensive rating of 117.1, a defensive rating of 102.2, and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.6 over this span. He just played the best game of his career against Utah, scoring 23 points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing out 4 assists. He even made five threes that night as well.

This is no coincidence that the Mavericks are winning as Finney-Smith is playing better. They need him to be a consistent 3-and-D guy if they want to see success in the playoffs. He is a prime example of a “hustle player”, and his 2 offensive rebounds a game over the last nine games is nothing to sneeze at. He gets Dallas extra possessions, provides energy on defense, and both of these things have trickled into the Mavericks playing inspired team defense and an increase in hustle on the offensive end.

One big question for the next five games:

How long will Dallas ride their current winning streak?

A rather obvious question, but an important one. Although Dallas has won five in a row, they have only seen themselves move from eighth place to seventh. This is because the rest of the Western Conference ahead of the Mavericks has been playing great alongside Dallas. Utah, Phoenix, the Clippers, Denver, and Portland have all won at least seven of their last ten games. If Dallas wants to avoid the play-in tournament, they need to stay hot, with or without Kristaps Porzingis. This next stretch features a game in Houston and then back to Dallas for a three game homestand where they face Milwaukee, San Antonio, and Philadelphia. They close out the stretch in Memphis on ESPN.

The Spurs, and Grizzlies are directly below Dallas in the standings and these games are crucial to widen the gap between them. The Rockets have won twice since February 4th, and is a must-win game. The Mavericks have played the Sixers and Bucks well the last two years, and, in fact, are 2-1 against both teams in that time frame. The Mavericks are surging, and we’re going to find out what they’re really made of.