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3 observations after the Dallas Mavericks hold off the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas, 124-115

Luka Doncic vs Lebron James lived up to the hype, again

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Christmas Day, winning 124-115. The superstar match up between Luka Doncic and LeBron James lived up to the billing, with Doncic scoring 32 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing nine assists. James poured in 38 to go along with six rebounds and five assists in defeat. Christian Wood also came up huge for Dallas, scoring 30 while grabbing eight rebounds and seven assists.

Things went all LA’s way early, with LeBron James pushing after Dallas misses and the Mavericks unable to connect on wide open looks. The Lakers sent variations of double teams at Luka Doncic and he was unable to get his first shot up until around the four minute mark of the quarter. Despite getting down by as many as 14 in the opening frame, the Mavericks willed themselves back into the game, closing the lead down to four. But a late stall in the Dallas offense paired with Laker free throws allowed Los Angeles to take a 28-21 lead after 12 minutes of action.

With Luka Doncic on the bench, the Dallas bench unit struggled to defend and the Lakers built up a double digit lead again. Offensively, Dallas continued to heave from three but couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. LeBron James continually punished any Dallas defender they put in front of him throughout the quarter and that allowed the Lakers to carry a 54-43 lead into the half.

A barrage of threes from Dallas to open the third quarter quickly closed the gap for the Mavericks and forced a Los Angeles timeout. The Maverick offense kept coming and Dallas took a lead around the halfway mark in the quarter through a Hardaway three off a drive and dish. The reign of threes continued throughout the frame, with Dallas hitting 9 of 12. That deluge broke the damn elsewhere as the Mavericks started scoring inside the key as well, which led them to scoring 51 points in the third quarter. Dallas led 94-75 after three periods.

After the historic third quarter for Dallas, the Lakers responded by whittling the Maverick lead to 10 in just 88 seconds. The Mavericks responded time and again throughout the quarter, but James and the Lakers kept coming. Foul trouble crept up on Dallas as well with Luka Doncic getting five and Dwight Powell fouling out with just over five minutes remaining. But Los Angeles just didn’t have enough juice to contain a Dallas offense which, once erupted, was impossible to contain with their limited defensive options. The Mavericks won on Christmas Day 124-115 and improve to 18-16 on the season.

When Mavericks hit open shots, Dallas stands a good chance of winning

Last year, just before the playoffs started Josh Bowe tweeted something that had been true for sometime, but had never been so succinctly stated before:

It’s still true and may likely be true the entire time Luka Doncic is with the Mavericks. In the first half, Dallas players were spoon fed a variety of open looks and they were unable to connect. In the third quarter as we all saw, the ball moved crisply and Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, and Christian Wood made the defense pay for leaving them open.

Doubling Luka Doncic should have diminishing returns

At halftime, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon noted that Luka Doncic saw double teams on 18 possessions in that first half. The Mavericks were unable to make the Lakers pay and trailed as a direct result. The aforementioned point discussed non-Luka players connecting on open shots and these shots are a direct result of Doncic getting doubled.

Doncic is going to make the right basketball play in nearly every situation when he’s locked in. And when teams opt to double Doncic early, I feel good about Luka eventually figuring out how to exploit the cracks in defensive coverage. He sees a higher percentage of double teams per game than just about any other player (he might see the most, actually but I don’t have access to the data at the moment). It’s the only defensive scheme that teams have seen work simply because of the limitations of the other Dallas players offensively. But give Luka enough looks at something, he’s going to figure out the way to get past it.

Christian Wood meets America

As an undrafted journeyman player, Christian Wood was likely familiar only to the most regular of basketball fans. After all, he’s played on seven teams in his NBA career. However, any who’d watched his various highlight videos on YouTube saw a player with utterly tantalizing highlights. With what he’s capable of on offense, he looks very much like an All-Star, he’s that talented.

But he’s not been able to put it together on a decent team. Until now.

This 30 point, eight rebound, seven assist, four steal, and two block perfomance on a national TV Christmas day game was a heck of an introduction to a lot of casual NBA fans. His insertion into the starting line up has provided the boost many of us have been calling for since then opening days of training camp. Now, it’s important to note that his solid play has accompanied the Mavericks facing a soft point in the schedule. But with Dallas fighting to keep their heads above water during a stretch with a lot of injury concerns, his strong play is needed. Hopefully, the connection he and Doncic have can be further developed as the Mavericks work through the season.

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