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Grading the Mavericks: Success will elude Dallas until they improve on the little things

Poor execution and missed free throws are signs of an unserious team.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas started this past week at .500, and they finished it the same way. They beat two excellent teams in Phoenix and Denver, and were one shot away from beating Milwaukee, many times over. Their second loss to Chicago came without Luka Doncic, Josh Green and Maxi Kleber. Kemba Walker made his Mavericks debut against the Bulls and scored eight points in 20 minutes.

Team grade: C

The Mavericks two wins this past week were fantastic. They handled Phoenix at home, and then flew to Denver and defeated the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back. Teams had only won 18 times since 2016 when playing in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back. Dorian Finney-Smith came up huge in that game, making threes down the stretch that kept the Mavericks connected, and ultimately gave them the lead for good.

The problem with two great wins, like those were, is that one horrific loss can sour the taste greatly. The Bucks game was that loss, and it is not going to be forgotten for a long time. Against Denver, Tim Hardaway Jr. missed two free throws while up one with around three seconds remaining. The second miss ended up helping Dallas, because Denver had no timeouts and Jamal Murray had to heave a half court shot, but nonetheless foreshadowed terrible things to come.

Those misses led directly into the Mavericks having their worst free throw shooting performance in franchise history, where they shot 10-of-24 from the stripe against Milwaukee. That was a game that Dallas simply had to have, and they gave it away in one of the worst ways you will ever see. The Mavericks end-of-game execution has been poor all year and it was brought into the national spotlight when Dallas choked against the Bucks.

A 7 PM tip in Chicago after a 9 PM game in Dallas the night before is a “scheduled loss”, so it is hard to take away anything from that game. When your best player doesn’t play, and two rotation guys are out as well, getting in to the hotel around 4 AM is going to make for sloppy basketball, which is exactly what they produced against the Bulls. A little more effort maybe could have been expected, but the circumstances of the game nullify any judgement to be made.

Straight A’s: The Mavericks’ defense

Lost in the rollercoaster of emotions the last few nights has been just how well the Mavericks defended team’s stars this week. Devin Booker and Nikola Jokic were held under 20 points, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was held under his average and fouled out. In particular, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber did a great job on the two most recent MVP’s, and that should not be glossed over. Dallas did the hard part (taking the superstar out of the game) and were rewarded with a win in two of those three opportunities.

Failing miserably: The last three minutes of the Bucks game

Antetokounmpo fouled out with 2:55 left in the game and the Bucks leading 102-101. His final foul was of the shooting variety on a Hardaway three. After Antetokounmpo exited the game, this is what Dallas did on offense: three missed free throws, Spencer Dinwiddie dunk, Doncic missed three-point floater, Doncic layup, Finney-Smith two missed free throws, and, finally, this play for the win:

The execution down the stretch was poor, to say the least. Missing five free throws in the last three minutes of a one-point loss is inexcusable under any circumstances. The possession where Doncic shot a floating three was taken up mostly by him and Kleber playing catch until he had to force a shot at the buzzer. Not calling a timeout after Brook Lopez hit a wide open layup to take the lead with seven seconds left is fine, but the players clearly did not know where to go in that situation, which means they have not gone over it well enough.

And the final inbounds play, the same one they have run three times, all ending in misses, needs to be scrapped. It is one screen and a guy running across the three point line. There is no misdirection, no creativity, and no urgency in the play. Everyone knows what is coming, and Doncic cannot be a savior when the defense does not have to work to blow up the play.

This loss hurts bad, for every reason. It proved how unserious the Mavericks are currently, and showcased all of their biggest issues. Free throws and execution are things that contending teams are built on, and Dallas will not contend until they solidify their foundation.

Extra credit: Dallas’ dunkline

Maybe the worst part of the loss to Milwaukee was how many highlight plays are now tainted because they came in defeat. However, they are still awesome, and everyone deserves to watch them over and over.

Firstly, a Josh Green reverse:

Next, a Dinwiddie wrong-foot two hand slam:

Third, a Dinwiddie poster on Brook Lopez:

Finally, a Doncic poster on Jrue Holiday: