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3 thoughts as the Dallas Mavericks outlast the Washington Wizards, 125-124

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WHEW

NBA: Washington Wizards at Dallas Mavericks Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks survived a barn burner at home Saturday night, defeating the Washington Wizards 125-124. Luka Doncic led Dallas with a 31 point, 12 rebound, 20 assist triple double. The 20 assists are a new career high for Doncic. Russell Westbrook went off in defeat, pouring in 42 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing nine assists.

Saturday night’s game resulted in the rare good start at home for the Mavericks against the Wizards. Though missing Kristaps Porzingis again, Luka Doncic was in his bag early and often, dishing dimes early then scoring at the rim late. He finished with 13 points, six assists, and four boards in the frame. The Mavericks also shot 6 of 10 from distance in the frame, led by three threes from Maxi Kleber. Sloppy defense from Dallas allowed the Wizards to hang around some and what should’ve been a larger double digit lead was just 38-26 after twelve minutes in favor of the Mavericks.

The offensive fire continued for Dallas in the quarter, with points coming easily so long as Luka Doncic was involved. The Mavericks shot 6 of 11 from distance in the frame. The Wizards, who lead the NBA in pace, just kept coming and cut the Dallas lead from 18 all the way down to five at the half. Russell Westbrook in particular kept the pressure on, scoring 23 in the first half to help keep Washington close. Dallas found themselves up just 70-65 after two quarters.

In the third quarter, things started to come apart for the Mavericks. The three point shooting cooled considerably, hitting just one three pointer on ten attempts. Defensively, they were sloppy too, getting ripped by Russell Westbrook’s 11 points on perfect shooting. Washington went on a 13-3 run to end the frame with Dallas looking lifeless on offense. The Wizards led 97-89 with one quarter left to play.

After getting punched in the mouth, the Dallas Mavericks responded to start the fourth. Trey Burke joined the line up as Dallas tried something to get them going offensively. Between Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, the Mavericks managed to slowly chip into the Wizards lead, though there weren’t many stops on defense. The Mavericks finally tied the game at 105 with around seven minutes remaining, though the lead would bounce back and forth for the remainder of the game, with five more ties and six lead changes. With 9 seconds on the clock in what would be the final Maverick possession, Luka Doncic found Dorian Finney-Smith in the corner for what would be the game winning three. After surviving a Bradley Beal three point attempt at the buzzer, Dallas walked away with a 125-124 victory. The Mavericks are now the fifth seed in the West, owing to a tie breaker over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, some thoughts:

Luka wants to be a distributor

I argue with friends of other NBA teams about this all the time, since Luka scores so well I understand why people think he wants to be James Harden. Really, I’m convinced Doncic wants to pass more and tonight against the Wizards we saw an engaged passer finding players who wanted the ball (well, maybe not Willie Cauley-Stein, more on him in the next section). Good on the rest of the roster, being ready and willing to shoot, drive, or move the ball. Things got a little gross in spurts with guys who aren’t good ball handlers going things (hello, Josh Richardson), but the offense hums when there is less dribbling and more passing and moving. Heliocentrism has a place with a good of an isolation scorer as Doncic is, but man is Dallas fun to watch when he’s finding guys and they are connecting.

Kristaps Porzingis is the only rim defender on the team

There’s a lot of grumbling and/or concern in Mavsdom about Porzingis getting more time off, but tonight was a good example of why he’s so important to the scheme even if he’s not playing his best. The Wizards scored SIXTY points in the paint and went to the line 31 times. Ideally, Porzingis is there to contest some of that and it can get bad when he’s not there. Powell and Cauley-Stein are simply not great rim protectors and Kleber’s at his best as a helper. Hopefully, Porzingis gets to feeling right and can come back and help bolster a defense which is going to continue to surrender points.

Josh Richardson may need to change roles

This was Richardson’s ninth game of the season (out of 50 games) shooting under 30% from the floor. He’s just in a dark place offensively and has been really bad since going nuts in Utah hitting all five of his threes, shooting just 36% from the floor over 10 games.

He’s started every game he’s been available this year but it’s to the point now where it’s worth questioning why. Richardson rarely guards the other team’s best player, so there’s not a good defensive reason. Offensively, he’s been pretty bad most of the year, shooting just 32% from three (a step up from his putrid 23% these last 10 contests) and he’s not been a consistent play maker and has seemingly disastrous live ball turnovers.

We’d all like to see him thrive, he was a big part of the off-season. But it’s time to try something new.

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.