Luka Doncic and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks are looking great. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games. They’ve had the best defense in the NBA for over a month. And most importantly, Luka looks like he’s finally getting in better shape (despite his recent shooting struggles).
On Wednesday night, they beat a tough, athletic Raptors squad thanks to a master-class performance from Luka (41/14/7). There were a lot of Luka highlights. He hit a dagger stepback three and threw some no-look passes — typical Luka stuff. He’s done a lot of that this season and in seasons prior. In the home win against the Raptors, though, Luka gave us his most important play of the 2021-22 NBA season. Let’s set the scene.
There was 4:57 left to play in the second quarter. The Mavs were down one point and Luka had just corralled a rebound off a Pascal Siakam miss. Luka looked up and saw nothing but the sun (i.e., Jalen Brunson in the open court with only one defender back to stop the fastbreak).
Luka assessed the situation and took a couple of dribbles up the court with Jalen Brunson on his left and Fred VanVleet stuck in no man’s land. Normally, this is a situation where Luka would hang onto the ball until the last second, reading what VanVleet does as the lone defender before deciding if he should pass or shoot. But this time was different. He got rid of the ball early, giving it to Brunson with plenty of options left on the table.
Why would Luka give the ball up early this time? The answer is simple. He had violent intentions. Luka wanted to throw down an alley-oop dunk.
Knowing that it was Luka next to him and not Zach LaVine, Brunson just threw a normal pass back to Luka and Luka finished the play with a layup. It was fine. It counted for two points.
The thing is... you could tell Luka wanted more. After Luka dished the ball to Brunson, his stride got more intense. He was gearing up for a vertical leap that would leave Vince Carter wondering how any one man could possibly jump that high. After the layup, Luka’s reaction said it all. Check it out:
Luka gives us a brief look at what his vertical is with this little hop after the play. Sure, he only got a few inches off the ground, but he was showing Jalen that yes, he can indeed jump. After his little bunny hop, Luka points up to the sky while laughing, making it obvious he wanted the ball thrown to where only he could reach it: the moon.
By now you’ve probably realized that this actually wasn’t the most important Luka play of the season, or even of the game. But it was definitely my favorite.
You can see the child-like joy in Luka’s face after the play. He’s laughing, having fun. He’s doing what he loves. There were times earlier this season when basketball looked like a chore for the Mavs. They were sluggish and sloppy. But now, they’re playing with joy. The mere fact that Luka even had intentions of dunking that basketball in alley-oop fashion indicates that he’s turned a corner this season. Him having 41 points in a game where he previously joked about catching a lob isn’t a coincidence at all. Luka’s at his best when he’s playing like a kid on the playground.
Who knows what Luka would have done if JB threw him the lob he so desperately wanted. Would he have put it between his legs? Would he have windmilled it? Would he have done a 360? The answer is probably all three together. We’ll never know, but that’s okay.
The one thing we do know is Luka has his mojo back.