The Cleveland Cavaliers beat down the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night, winning 105-90 in Dallas in the first matchup between the two teams this season.
Donovan Mitchell led all scorers with 34 points, including 25 in the first half. Every single Cavalier starter scored in double digits. Luka Doncic led the Mavericks with 30 points, five rebounds, and six assists.
While the deficit hovered between 12-18 points for the majority of the game, the Mavericks were never truly in it. They started the first quarter in a dreadful 16-2 hole and while they showed some spurts of life afterward, they only got the game in single digits once in the second half for about one possession.
Dallas clearly missed both Maxi Kleber and Josh Green, as the Mavericks energy level was anemic at times. Defensively there were a ton of breakdowns near the basket that you can only imagine might have been cleaned up if Kleber and Green were available.
Unfortunately the Mavericks are back down to .500 and the schedule isn’t letting up, with games against Portland and Cleveland again before the week ends.
Here are our observations.
The talent gap in this game was undeniable
Cleveland is one of the best teams in the league and their 18-11 record has somehow gone under the radar due to how great Boston and Milwaukee are. But the Cavs are good. Very good.
The talent disparity between the two squads was noticeable right from the tip. Cleveland jumped out to a 16-2 lead and the Cavaliers lineup is just stacked with talent top to bottom. If you ranked the players that played in this game, you’d rank Luka one and then when would you get to the next Mavericks player? Seven? Eight?
Cleveland has the advantage of course of spending multiple years near the bottom of the standings after LeBron James left for a second time, allowing them to acquire talented players with top-10 picks, like Darius Garland and Evan Mobley. The Cavs then expertly used other assets to acquire Donovan Mitchell and Jarett Allen. This is a complete squad.
Does this excuse the poor energy level the Mavericks had for a majority of the first half? Certainly not. But this was a measuring stick game for the Mavericks and they didn’t pass. Dallas has a ways to go to build their roster to a comparable level.
Some significant lineup changes
After the lackluster first half, coach Jason Kidd made some substantial lineup changes to start the second half. Out was Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith and in was Christian Wood and Reggie Bullock.
It was one of the first times I can remember Finney-Smith not starting a half while healthy in a long, long time. Kidd clearly wanted Bullock on the floor to start the half to slow down Mitchell, who cooked the Mavericks for 25 points in the first half. It sorta worked too! Bullock almost face-guarded Mitchell for most of the second half and Mitchell only scored nine second half points. Too bad the Mavericks couldn’t contain Mitchell’s teammates.
Wood provided a big offensive punch, nailing four three pointers and scoring 20 points. Unfortunately as the second half lagged on, Wood’s defensive problems showed up as the Cavaliers continually got good looks around the rim as the Mavericks rotations with Wood on the floor were slow and late.
Even with the mixed results, it felt significant. Powell and Finney-Smith have been rocks in the Mavericks lineup for years. Could this be a sign of Kidd about to mix things up? We’ll see later this week.
Tim Hardaway Jr. cooling off
After Tim Hardaway Jr.’s outrageous five game stretch where he drilled 30 three pointers, Hardaway has come back down to earth in the last four games.
Hardaway has shot a combined 11-of-35 (31.4 percent) from three in the last four games and the Mavericks are 1-3 in those games. Dallas needs Hardaway to be consistent from three for them to win games.
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