The Mavericks finish the week 3-1 with Luka Doncic-less wins against the Jazz, Clippers, and Kings. Their only loss came on the night Doncic made his return, against the same Kings team they had beaten the night before. Kyrie Irving made his Dallas Mavericks debut against the Clippers on February 8th. Tim Hardaway Jr. left the Mavericks’ second matchup with Sacramento with a hamstring injury.
Team Grade: A
With all the craziness that is the trade deadline, Dallas made the most out of it on the floor. Their best win of the season came in the wake of the Kyrie Irving trade when they had no Doncic, no Irving, and incidentally, no problem beating the Jazz on the road. Josh Green and Jaden Hardy each had 29 points (both career highs), and the Mavericks looked fun for the first time all year.
The fun continued when Irving made his debut against the Clippers, as the offense looked in flow for the first time all year. There were dribble hand-offs, ball reversals, cutting, and quick decisions on where to move the ball. It is no exaggeration to say the team looked night and day even just a week prior. This only continued through the first game against Sacramento, and the fun slowed down when Doncic made his return.
The loss to the Kings can be attributed to nothing more than growing pains. It was the debut of the NBA’s new highest-scoring duo, and the performance was a bit underwhelming. The team felt like they had felt pre roster shakeup to start the game, and the defense seemed to take a step back. It is going to take time for Doncic and Irving to figure out how to play with one another, and specifically for Doncic to acclimate himself to the quicker pace that they played with in his absence.
This week was about, for lack of a better term, the other guys. JaVale McGee has looked serviceable, Reggie Bullock has hit shots that he is expected to, and Jaden Hardy has given Dallas great minutes off of the bench. Theo Pinson has found himself in a bench role and has made a few plays himself. Once Doncic and Irving figure it out, the role players playing this well are going to be the key to Dallas’ success.
Straight A’s: Josh Green
Green is currently playing the best stretch of his career. In his last five games, he is getting almost 37 minutes and scoring 17 points on 70 percent true shooting. This unprecedented level of improvement not just year-over-year, but seemingly week-over-week has propelled the Mavericks from a middle-of-the-pack enigma to a serious championship contender.
The front office’s confidence in Green was a catalyst for the Kyrie Irving trade and allowed them to ship Dorian Finney-Smith to Brooklyn with no regrets. His emergence as a high-energy defender and a serious threat to score makes Dallas very dangerous. Josh Green has now become the Mavericks’ x-factor.
Failing Miserably: Doncic’s fourth quarter and overtime
In his return, Doncic only managed to score eight points after halftime. This culminated in Dallas’ game-tying shot being another Doncic stepback (which he missed) after they acquired Kyrie Irving to help out in these exact situations. Doncic was quick to apologize, however, and take the blame:
Luka Doncic on his tough look from 3 that would’ve tied it late in OT: “That’s my bad. Should’ve gave it back to Kai. It’s a learning process, but I definitely should’ve given it back to Kai. He was hot down the stretch.”— Callie Caplan (@CallieCaplan) February 12, 2023
It is just one game, but Doncic needs to be more aggressive in the non-Irving minutes down the stretch. Even in the minutes Irving is on the floor, Doncic is the number one option and needs to look to shoot more. Whether this was rust being shaken off or a product of the lack of time the Mavericks’ new duo has spent on the floor, Doncic needs to continue to be the aggressive bully he was before Irving arrived.
Extra Credit: Dwight Powell
The longest-tenured Maverick deserves his flowers for how good he has been recently, especially on defense and protecting the boards. He contributed heavily to all of the wins Dallas had this week, limiting all three big men (Walker Kessler, Ivica Zubac, and Domantas Sabonis) to a combined 40 points and 30 rebounds in three games. This may not seem like a valiant effort, but Dallas has struggled mightily with physical bigs this year, and with Christian Wood again relegated to the bench, Powell’s role on defense will only increase and performance like he had this week will result in Dallas winning a lot of games.