It’s Tuesday night, it’s raining and the Mavericks are playing a mediocre team without their best players.
A winning team, like we’ve seen the Mavericks and especially Luka Dončić recently, would shut that team down and win comfortably in three quarters, letting their star sit out the fourth.
But Luka Dončić and these Mavericks have rarely lived up to that this season. And if Luka Dončić, leader of this team, doesn’t show up with the right attitude, the rest of the team usually follows suit.
There were the games this fall, like the Mavericks’ loss to Oklahoma City where they blew a 16-point lead and lost in overtime. And that’s just one out of many examples this season, where the Mavericks lost their leads and ended up losing to inferior teams.
There were the multiple tight games, like against Orlando, which the Mavericks lost, it seems, 100 percent of the time until Christmas.
Luka Dončić has been struggling with this, that’s clear this season. The showman that he is, he showed up as a cowboy to the nationally televised game on Christmas, just the second of his career, complete with boots and a hat. Whether he said “howdy” and tipped his hat to the frenzied media members is unclear, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
He started that game slow but took over in the second half and showed that he’s one of the best players in the world with 32 points, nine assists and nine boards.
In his historic performance against the Knicks in the following game, he played the best game of his life. I don’t think I need to say more than 60/21/10. Legendary. But here he also had motivation and something to play for - the Knicks with Brunson (who was out) was the only team Luka had never beaten at home. This stuff matters to players.
Motivation to hold on to the winning streak has helped in the last games, but can he keep that up over the next stretch, when the inspiration of someone like Shaq being courtside, meeting Brunson or national television are not there?
All players have to learn to find motivation in the small things and not just believe, but understand that every game matters.
That’s a hard thing to do when there’s 82 games in a season. But that’s what winning players and winning teams do - and it’s what’s needed to make the playoffs. And if there’s one thing Luka wants to do, it’s win.
I’m not asking for a 60 burger or a 50 burger or even 40. I’m asking for the best Maverick player to show up and show the way with the right energy and a positive attitude. Every single game.
For this team to be a winning team, all players need to show up to every game, even if it’s a rainy Tuesday night and you’d rather go out for dinner and you also don’t really respect the opponent.
This is not an easy task, however. We often forget that Luka is still only 23. Most players at his level are in their late 20’s or older and have had to learn to find their version of motivation through the years.
Very rarely do we see a player dominating this early in his career, and if we want to enjoy that we also have to keep in mind that the kid is - a kid. He needs time, like the rest of us.
When I was 23, I couldn’t control my facial expressions either, and I would roll my eyes at people constantly (just ask my friends from college). Seems familiar? Yes, 23 year olds are still learning, and he needs time to develop this skill.
Whether it’s a fake rivalry with an opposing player, a friendly bet or a competition against yourself, these high-performers and extreme competitors need something to light their fire.
He plays basketball like a wise old man, has the vision and IQ of a vet and the footwork of a ballet dancer. Now he needs to take on a new challenge: show up to every single game ready to dominate.