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One play illustrates the Dallas Mavericks’ problems this year

The Mavericks’ defensive lapse against Steph Curry is emblematic of their issues.

Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks suffered a loss to the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night. The defeat made avoiding the play-in tournament more difficult, and was especially frustrating considering the Warriors’ struggles on the road. There was also a bit of controversy you may have heard about. We’ve dubbed it the Cuban Whistle Crisis.

It’s on to the next game for Dallas, but one of the plays from late in the game illustrates some of the Mavericks’ worst problems on defense. It’s the game-clinching layup by Steph Curry:

It’s a great call by the Warriors, getting Reggie Bullock switched off of Curry with a Draymond Green screen. Maxi Kleber, who’s shown limited mobility since his return from a hamstring injury, is forced to guard Curry on the perimeter. Not ideal. The Warriors then bring Jonathan Kuminga up to screen, bringing Luka Doncic into the play. By doing this, Golden State forcing two of the Mavericks’ most immobile defenders to defend Curry in the pick-and-roll. That’s a recipe for disaster.

There’s two big issues in this one play, and they’ve defined the Mavericks’ season, at least on the defensive end.

Let’s address the schematic problem first. It shouldn’t have been a surprise for the Dallas coaching staff that Doncic would be targeted on that final play. There should have been a plan in place to pre-switch Doncic with a better defender once his man moved to screen. That’s pretty common in the NBA these days.

There’s another way to better guard that Curry pick-and-roll. Watch as Kuminga crosses the paint to set a screen just as Green dives through the lane after setting his screen, bringing Bullock with him. Doncic and Bullock could’ve switched at that moment. Again, this is a pretty standard tactic in the NBA. It’s called a scram switch. Bullock would be back in the action to disrupt the pick-and-roll, while Doncic would be in the paint with Green, a good defensive matchup for the Mavericks’ superstar.

Dallas didn’t do any of that, and the result was an easy layup for Curry. Breaking down defense is hard, because from the outside, we’re not sure what exactly the coaching staff wants individual players to do in given situations. But surely there were better options than leaving Kleber and Doncic on an island against Curry.

Jason Kidd didn’t seem bothered by the play. “You look at the split of being able to corral [Stephen] Curry – it’s not easy and he made a heck of a play by driving it,” Kidd said after the game. “The read that Luka [Dončić] and Reggie [Bullock Jr.] had was the right read. They top-blocked. We’ll take the quick two and then we’ll play the free-throw game. Understand, we got a good look, it just didn’t go down for us.”

And speaking of Doncic, that leads us to the second issue. Effort. Watch Doncic on that play. He doesn’t really do...anything. He doesn’t step up to impede Curry’s path, but he doesn’t stick close to Kuminga, either. Kuminga is shooting 36 percent from deep this season, which is pretty good. But you’d rather him be the one with the ball in his hands, late in the shot clock, with the chance to seal the game, than one of the twenty best players in NBA history.

Doncic doesn’t have to be a great defender for the Mavericks. He carries an incredible load on offense, after all. But he can’t give such low effort in a crucial play of a huge game. Watch Doncic as Curry is about to shoot the layup. His arms are in the air in frustration before the play is even over. Kuminga, Doncic’s man, his racing down the lane to grab an offensive rebound in case Curry misses the layup.

Doncic is the franchise cornerstone and highest paid player on the team. He can’t give minimal effort on defense and give up on plays. When the best player on the team does stuff like that, it spreads throughout the roster.

The Mavericks season isn’t over, but it is slipping away. It’s up to the coaching staff and Doncic to fix these issues before it’s too late.