Dallas sits at 18-16, after winning three of their four games this past week. They lost Maxi Kleber to hamstring surgery, and Josh Green, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Kemba Walker remain out due to shorter term ailments. The Mavericks ride a three game winning streak into a week with three games.
Team grade: B+
Being in the business of valuing certain wins over others is dangerous. You can only play the games in front of you, and it is a much better mindset to believe that your next win is your best win. This is precisely why the Mavericks had a good week. They played a Minnesota team twice that has no identity, a Rockets team that lies at the bottom of the West, and a Lakers team without Anthony Davis that seems to be in complete disarray. They came out 3-1 in those games, which should be expected. Winning the games you have to play is good, and Dallas finally did just that.
As the mid-season injury bug starts to take its toll, the Mavericks have been left with almost no guards to back up Luka Doncic. Mckinley Wright IV was called up and played 23 total minutes between Friday and Sunday’s games. The stats won’t show anything crazy, but he has a great feel for the game and is really good at keeping the defender on his back and getting to his floater. He also flashed some defensive intensity and had a great tip-out offensive rebound against the Lakers.
Luka Doncic had maybe his worst game of the season the first go-around against the Timberwolves, and his highest scoring game of the season, dropping 50 against the Rockets. He continues to bounce back after poor performances, and there is simply no way around acknowledging how much an aggressive Doncic means to this team.
Dallas improved to 11-1 when Tim Hardaway Jr. shoots 45 percent from the field or better. He has slowly become the Mavericks second most important player on offense, because of his volume and the types of shots he is taking. He is up to nearly three drives per game in the last ten games, which is crucial for this team’s success. Hitting his threes matters, but when he is aggressive, the Mavericks are a much better team, and his aggression feeds his rhythm shooting the ball.
Straight A’s: Christian Wood
It only took every other center (except Javale McGee) to get hurt for Christian Wood to finally be thrust into a starting role. Since becoming a front man five games ago, he is averaging 18 points, nine rebounds, two assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.4 blocks on 50 percent shooting from the field and 81 percent shooting from the line. The bottom line: he has become a winning basketball player since becoming a starter.
This is a very small sample size, and the opponents haven’t been stellar, but it is hard to ignore the fact that you get good results when you play your best players. He has been an excellent short roller, culminating in seven assists against the Lakers. He has protected the paint, with six (!) consecutive games of two or more blocks. He has shown he can be a force around the basket, shooting 73 percent inside ten feet (and 67 percent on two’s overall) in the last five games. Even when he only could accumulate eight points against Houston, he impacted the game defensively with four blocks.
Basketball is all about opportunity, and Wood got his when Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber went down. He is finding ways to matter, which is exactly what playing winning basketball is about. The Mavericks have a big stretch coming up against teams that they should beat, and Wood has a great opportunity to keep the ball rolling.
Failing miserably: Luka Doncic on defense
Doncic is other-worldly on offense, but the area that seems to be taking the biggest hit from his usage is his defense. He’s never been a great defender, but he has been serviceable most of the time. Recently however, there has been a noticeable drop off in his effort and awareness. For example, on this play he just gets caught in no man’s land before giving up a cut to Jaden McDaniels:
He has missed rotations and fallen asleep like that more frequently. This is surely a byproduct of his load on the other end and the way this team is constructed, but team defensive concepts only work when the whole team buys in, and that starts with your best player. More effort defensively from Doncic would go a long way on nights where shots aren’t falling.
Extra credit: The magic of a Christmas game
Every player growing up dreams of playing on Christmas, and every fan hopes to attend their team’s Christmas day game. I am lucky enough to have been at Dallas’ Christmas Day game against the Lakers, and what a magical day it was.
It started with the unveiling of Dirk’s statue, which was more perfect than we could have hoped. There were “Hardwood Classic” Nowitzki jerseys in the shop, giving the arena a sense of nostalgia. Luka Doncic entered the arena in the the most Texan way possible:
Lebron James, the face of the sport for the last decade-plus, came to town and put on a show. We got the Doncic vs James matchup we wanted, with James putting up 38 points and Doncic being right there with 32. Both teams donned their city edition uniforms, and the Mavericks coupled that with their retro city edition court:
Christmas on the City court! pic.twitter.com/zdAySYXetC— Mavs Tracker (@MavsTracker) December 25, 2022
The Mavericks tied a franchise record for points in a quarter with 51 in the third, and prevented the Lakers from putting coal in the Mavericks stockings. Chants of “beat LA” rang out on defense, and “MVP” when Doncic went to the free throw line. The home team took care of business, and “The King” could not defend his Christmas throne against Dallas once again.