Dallas finished the week 1-3 with a crazy, double overtime win against the Lakers, two losses against Portland, and a third against the Clippers. Tim Hardaway Jr. missed the game Sunday night in Portland due to an ankle injury he suffered the night before. Luka Doncic missed the game as well, but for rest disguised as injury management. Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green, originally likely to make their debut on Dallas’ road trip, are now approaching a month since their last game.
Team grade: C-
The injury bug has hit Dallas hard. Their defense has been horrid, their offense has almost no flow, and the decisions being made by Dallas’ leadership to try and combat their lack of depth has cost them. Theo Pinson has played first quarter minutes in the last three days, which should tell you everything you need to know.
Dallas has the third worst defense by rating in January, and the fourth worst net rating. It is hard to defend in today’s NBA regardless, but when you’re missing an entire defensive core, the task becomes impossible. Despite the personnel deficiencies, the game against the Clippers and both games against Portland were very winnable, but Dallas just made some weird defensive decisions that led to their demise.
The Clippers led 44-36 in the second quarter with Kawhi Leonard on the bench. Leonard came back in with 6:45 to go in the half, Dallas promptly starts doubling him (which they did not do up to that point) and the Mavericks then found themselves in a 69-47 hole at half. They never managed to climb out. It was a poor decision to double a guy not even 20 games removed from his ACL injury, rather than play straight up and eliminate the “other guys”.
Against Portland, the two things that doomed them was having their big in drop coverage, both on pick and roll and Iverson action, and Reggie Bullock having to guard Damian Lillard. Both times Portland pulled away (in the second quarter on Saturday and fourth quarter on Sunday), it was due to shot making because Dallas’ big was too low, and the fact that Reggie Bullock simply cannot defend explosive guards.
The win against the Lakers was almost an embarrassing loss, but Doncic, along with the worst officials in history, made sure that Dallas wasn’t going to lose another game in which they had a huge lead. The Mavericks need their guys back, but even more than that, they need a roster overhaul.
Straight A’s: Luka Doncic
As the Mavericks now find themselves 0-5 without Doncic, his MVP case only has more fuel to its fire. Over his last 10 games, he is averaging nearly 37 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists, on 50 percent shooting. He is taking almost 15 free throws a game during that stretch, and is averaging around a steal and a block as well. He leads the league in minutes per game, and is fifth in total minutes, while carrying the second highest usage rate. He has put Dallas on his back, and is carrying them as far as he can go.
The MVP case for Nikola Jokic is strong, as he has led his team to the best record in the West. The argument for Jayson Tatum can be made, but he plays on the best team in the league alongside a guy who is better than him half of the nights. Luka Doncic is the MVP right now because without him, this Mavericks team would be fighting for the worst record in the league. Instead, they somehow sit comfortably in fifth place.
Failing Miserably: The Mavericks organization
This current losing period, and, frankly, their rocky start is not really on the players at all. In fact, Dallas showed a tremendous amount of fight without Doncic on a back-to-back in Portland Sunday night, and just came up one run short of winning. Sure, role players don’t make shots sometimes, but these role players are asked to carry a huge load because of how the roster is constructed, and therefore their mistakes carry a heavier weight. They are being asked to fill bigger shoes than they fit in, which is unfair to them.
These games were lost before the season even started. Dallas’ biggest off-season acquisition, a big center, played only eight minutes on a night when Dallas had one other center active. They signed Theo Pinson because he was a “vibes” guy, and now he has to play decent minutes because of all the injuries. They gave Goran Dragic a sour offer, and now they have no backup ball-handler to run any type of offense with Doncic off the floor. Injuries and illness are guaranteed throughout the course of the season, and Dallas has constructed a roster who’s biggest weakness is guys missing time.
My stance has always been that Dallas, as currently constructed, can win a playoff series and from there, Luka Doncic can make anything happen. When healthy, their roster is not as bad as it may seem sometimes, although it certainly needs upgrades. But the lack of seriousness management has shown towards draft capital and players 10-15 on the bench, in a period where injuries and illness are at an all-time high, is criminal, and is catching up to them in a big way. Until the organization gets serious about every single asset they have and every roster position they need to fill, Luka Doncic’s time in Dallas will be overwhelmingly underwhelming.
Extra credit: Jaden Hardy
I once again want to give Jaden Hardy extra credit. He has been such a light in Dallas’ dark times, not because he’s been so great on the floor (which he has been good), but simply because he is young and exciting and something to look forward to. The Mavericks have been largely the same over the last four years, and Hardy has brought something different to the table. He was even a net-positive player against Portland in a competitive game, and helped a lineup of him, Bullock, Powell, McKinley Wright IV, and Theo Pinson bring Dallas back to within three before the fourth quarter started, after Portland went up nine.
He is giving Dallas the burst off the bench that they need, and his development is going to be lovely to see over this next off-season.