The Mavericks beat the Knicks, Rockets, and Spurs this past week to close out 2022. Dallas is now the owner of the second longest active winning streak (six games). If they win Monday, it’ll be the longest win streak since the 2011 title year.
Team grade: A-
The Mavericks officially lost three of their four best defenders for extended time when Dorian Finney-Smith sustained an adductor strain against the Timberwolves on December 19th. He joined Josh Green and Maxi Kleber on the sidelines, meaning Dallas was going to be down three rotation players for what has now been almost two weeks. Their response? Win six games in a row.
Winning six games consecutively is hard to do at any point in the season, but doing it without three not only rotation players but defensive anchors is impressive. There are a few caveats (and the reasons they are not receiving an A+), including the fact that the teams they have beaten are not the NBA’s elite. They still have poor late-game execution, and without Maxi Kleber have a lot of trouble defending physical big men. Reggie Bullock still isn’t hitting shots at a high enough clip, and production from backup guards is seldom a factor. Nonetheless, Dallas has found ways to win.
As the Mavericks wake up January first, they sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, three games out of first, and three games ahead of 10th. They have momentum going into the halfway mark of the season, and are utilizing these “easier” games to gain some traction while guys are out.
Straight A’s: Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic is and should be the MVP favorite right now. Over this six game winning streak, he is averaging 42.2 points, 10.2 assists, and 10.8 rebounds on 59/47/74 percent shooting splits. Because we can get caught up in the moment and take greatness for granted, now is a perfect time for a reminder: what Luka Doncic is doing right now is historic.
He has three 50 point games in the last nine days, including the first 60 point, 20 rebound, 10 assist game in NBA history. When you do something Wilt Chamberlain never did, it must have been complete and utter insanity. He is now on the best six game stretch of his career, with every game being a win. The number of players who have scored at least 253 points, dished out at least 61 assists, grabbed 65 or more rebounds, and shot 58 percent or better over a six game span? One, and his name is Luka Doncic.
The Mavericks are sustaining their best stretch of the season thus far, and what I failed to mention in the previous section is that Doncic is almost the sole reason why. Yes, Christian Wood is playing better and other players have stepped up, but without Doncic’s historic performances, who knows where Dallas would be right now. We are witnessing a future Hall-of-Famer write his legacy, and it is important to take it in as much as you can.
Failing miserably: Dallas’ defense
Their offense has been scorching over the last six games, but their defense has taken a serious dip. For the season, they are down to 18th in defensive rating, and during their win streak they are 19th, giving up 116.8 points per 100 possessions. Losing their defensive core and not seeing a drop off would have been unusual, so this trend is not surprising. Regardless, Dallas plays Boston and New Orleans this upcoming week, who are both top 10 in offensive rating (in fact, the Celtics are number one), and they are going to need to pick it up on that end if they want to continue their hot streak.
Extra credit: Greg Popovich
The legendary Spurs coach is known for his shenanigans during interviews and media sessions, and he had this to say about Doncic before their matchup on Saturday:
Gregg Popovich on Luka Doncic's 60-20-10 game: "There's always something in our lives that makes you say, 'I can't believe that happened.' That was one of them for sure."— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) December 31, 2022
Popovich said, jokingly: "50 is going to be our goal. We're holding Luka under 50. Quote." pic.twitter.com/wsR7ymVwv3
Doncic scored 51, much to the chagrin of Popovich, who tried to avoid him like the plague after the game:
Gregg Popovich running away from Luka after saying the Spurs were going to hold him under 50, but Luka is Luka and he scored 51 pic.twitter.com/oICttKzadL— Missy (@missysinghsongs) January 1, 2023