The Dallas Mavericks (13-13) kick off a three-game homestand against the Oklahoma City Thunder (11-15) tonight at 7:30 pm at the American Airlines Center.
The Mavericks followed up with an inexplicable 106-105 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night with another loss to the Chicago Bulls just a few hours later on Saturday evening, 144-115. The Mavericks were without Luka Doncic, Maxi Kleber, and Josh Green for the game against the Bulls. Doncic is likely to return against the Thunder while Green remains out and Kleber is listed as questionable.
Let’s go obvious here: free throws
Prior to Friday night’s waking nightmare finish against Milwaukee, the Mavericks' free throw issues had shown up mainly on the road. Then 10-for-24 happened. The final six attempts were missed in a one-point loss. When coaches and players are asked about this, there are no good answers.
Luka Doncic took the onus on himself in the post-game presser stating, “it starts with me, gotta make the free throws”. He continued, “the locker room is kinda tough right now because we had the game”. Indeed they did. The Mavericks played incredible defense for the first three quarters against galactic superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo - only to see him foul out after finally putting on his cape in the fourth quarter. They also threw down a handful of memorable dunks but they would gladly have traded those posters for some made free throws when it mattered most.
While mundane, keeping track of their success rate from the stripe throughout the game is something to watch against the Thunder.
The Thunder have already proven how dangerous they are
Back on October 29th, the Mavericks hosted the Thunder. Leading 95-79 with 4:48 to go in the fourth, Dallas coughed up a 16-point lead as the Thunder forced overtime. Sparsely used shooting guard Isaiah Joe came off the OKC bench and dropped 15 in that game - the last seven in that final five-minute surge to end regulation included a game-tying three.
The Thunder pushed their way past the Mavericks in overtime leaving many to call that game the worst regular season loss of the Luka Doncic era. Since that game, the Mavericks have cemented other nominations for that dubious distinction including Friday night against the Bucks.
The Thunder are young, long, and athletic. They also keep playing for 48 minutes regardless of the score. They feature an impending All-Star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and tough-nosed Luguentz Dort whom Doncic called a top 3 defender after the October loss. Dallas will have their hands full especially if Kleber is unable to go.
Will the real Dallas Mavericks please stand up?
The Dallas Mavericks have shown us the good and the bad on the way to a 13-13 start to the season. Head coach Jason Kidd remarked that game 26 is still early and that there is a lot of basketball to be played. While true, it is far enough in the season to have some justifiable concerns.
Blowing late leads, poor free throw shooting, and losing to inferior yet feisty teams are some of the early trendlines that Dallas needs to reverse. Feel-good wins against Golden State, Phoenix, and Denver are great but mean a lot less when they occur alongside some of the worst losses in recent memory.
It is time for the boring stuff. Hitting free throws, beating weaker teams, and holding onto leads in the fourth. Tonight’s game against OKC represents a chance for a literal mulligan on all three counts.
Where to watch
You can watch the Mavs and the Thunder tonight at 7:30 pm on Bally Sports Southwest.