When the Mavericks started the fourth quarter trailing 91-79, my brain still hadn’t fully accepted a Mavericks defeat. Luka Doncic was playing spectacularly, the Nets were shorthanded and bound to look sluggish on the second night of a back-to-back. It was a tall order, but all the Mavericks had to do to have a chance was somehow win the short stint that Luka sat on the bench in the fourth quarter.
The Mavericks outscored the Nets 12-2 in that stretch.
It wasn’t even like the Mavericks were out-scheming the Nets, it was just Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie — the only other players not named Doncic the Mavericks trust with the ball in their hands — going to work in 1-on-1 situations.
Doncic returned and the Mavericks were only down a handful of possessions. It felt like the Nets were cooked after that and the Mavericks brought home another impressive, dramatic road win with Dinwiddie’s second straight game-winner. Of course.
Dallas is now 27-8 since the Dec. 29 loss to the Sacramento Kings. The Mavericks are 10-3 since trading Kristaps Porzingis. They have won eight of their last nine games, with five of those eight wins coming against contenders in Utah, Golden State, Boston, and now Brooklyn. According to stats site Cleaning the Glass, the Mavericks are 14th in the league in net-rating the past two weeks, which includes 14th in offense and 11th in defense. The Mavericks are winning games against good teams and you could argue they technically aren’t even playing their best basketball.
At this point it almost feels like divine intervention — the Dallas Mavericks are never losing another basketball game ever again. A hearty pre-congratulations to the future 2022 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
I kid of course. While it feels like the Mavericks have been blessed by the basketball gods, what has really happened is that the Mavericks, for the first time in over three years, dramatically altered a roster that had grown beyond stale. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Porzingis-less Mavericks are entertaining as hell and look like a team freed from a heavy burden that had dragged them down for the past 18 to 24 months.
Sometimes change for the sake of change is a good thing. I’ve screamed into the void for the past two years that the Mavericks needed to do something to this roster and that the status-quo wasn’t cutting it anymore. I bemoaned the staleness of the four-man core of Doncic, Porzingis, Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., the staples of the starting lineup for most of the Doncic era. While I’m sure there will be plenty of “gotchas” attempted on me for doubting a possible Mavericks resurgence, that point has sort have been proven true, right?
Porzingis has been traded, Hardaway left with injury. In their place are Dinwiddie, Brunson, and Reggie Bullock: two point guards more capable with the ball in their hands than any other non-Doncic player on the Mavericks roster since Doncic was drafted in 2018 and a three-and-D forward the team has thirsted for the past three years. The Mavericks roster has had a substantial and sizeable change in the past month and the team is now winning at rates it hasn’t in years. That’s beautiful. It’s not mission accomplished, far from it, but damn it’s at least a step closer than it has been in a while.
Dinwiddie in particular has gone from pariah to savior — in Washington he was lost and in Dallas he is found. You almost have to think Dinwiddie was sandbagging to get out of Washington, looking at how dramatic the turnaround has been. His final line with the Wizards was 12.6 points per game on 37.6 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from three. In Dallas, entering the Brooklyn game, it was 17.5 points per game on 50.8 shooting from the floor and 44.2 percent from three.
The numbers are fantastic but the way it’s happening is a revelation — the Mavericks finally have the secondary creator/scorer combo they’ve needed since Doncic was drafted. Dinwiddie feels like an old school NFL running back that keeps plowing ahead for two or three yards every touch in the first half, to only wear down a defense in the second and rip off big gains. He constantly puts pressure on the rim with relentless drives, even if they don’t give immediate results. Then in the second half, almost by sheer attrition, Dinwiddie’s drives break down a defense and the points overflow like a broken dam. No better example of this phenomenon than the Brooklyn performance Wednesday night — in 14 first half minutes, Dinwiddie scored seven points while shot 2-of-7 from the floor, 3-of-3 from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter alone he had 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting and five free throw attempts, making all five.
Not everything is different, mind you. Maxi Kleber is still the frustrating example of a role player stretched to the limits, and the offense disappears for long stretches as Doncic’s usage pushes the limits of basketball. Dallas is still somewhat, at its core, a team that needs Doncic to do just about everything and hope some hot shooting from role players can carry them deeper into playoffs. The macro view is similar, but the micro view, the details, are anything but. The Mavericks defend and they actually have a co-star that not only shows up, but makes game-winners. It’s a lot of a fun. Sorry Kristaps, you were a nice guy by all accounts. But the Mavericks should find a way to trade you every season, if this is the result. The Mavericks are cruising and for the first time in years I don’t know when the ride is going to end.
Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.