The Dallas Mavericks a few key wins over the last week, notching home wins against the Minnesota Timberwolves and last night against the New York Knicks — the latter while missing three starters including Luka Doncic. Even with that in mind they continue to confound, dropping in a loss between those two inspiring victories to the Memphis Grizzles who were without Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and nearly half the game without Marcus Smart.
But they have taken a step forward, improving greatly in clutch contests thanks to improved depth and the dynamic play of Kyrie Irving and Doncic. Now it is a matter of getting the team fully healthy again ahead of the trade deadline so the team can see what they truly have, and where they may need to adjust.
Last week: 10
Forward Derrick Jones Jr. has provided major value on a veterans minimum deal, earning a starting role and the respect of his coaches and teammates by typically taking the most difficult defensive assignment. “If you look at his build, there’s not a lot of muscle, but he loves the competition,” coach Jason Kidd said. “He loves to compete, he loves to win. He wants to be a part of something that is about the team, and so you couldn’t ask for a better role player that plays at the highest level for us.” Jones is averaging a career-best 10.3 points, benefitting from the attention defenses pay to Luka Doncic, who has assisted on 49 of Jones’ 134 field goals. — MacMahon
Last week: 15
Kyrie Irving returned from a 12-game absence on Jan. 1, and the Mavs began 2024 with a 37-point loss in Utah. But they’ve since won three straight, getting both their first win without Luka Doncic (Friday against Portland) and their best win of the season (Sunday against Minnesota).
Before Sunday, the Mavs were 1-9 against the eight teams that have a better record than they do, having allowed more than 125 points per 100 possessions over the 10 games. The one win came against the Clippers in those first five games after the James Harden trade. But they were able to beat the Wolves on Sunday, answering an 11-0 Minnesota run (that put them down six with less than four minutes left) with a 13-0 run of their own.
The Wolves came into the game with a league-best 11-2 record in clutch games, but the Mavs now have the second-best clutch mark (12-5). They’ve seen the biggest improvement from last season, when they were 26-29 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, including a brutal 3-11 in the clutch with both Doncic and Irving in uniform. They’re 7-1 in the clutch this season with Irving, who’s shot 7-for-10 on clutch 2-pointers, 5-for-10 on clutch 3s (having hit two big ones on Sunday) and 8-for-8 on clutch free throws.
Statistically, the last five games have been the Mavs’ best stretch of defense (109.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season, though that comes with the context that they just beat the Blazers (who rank 28th offensively) by a total of 65 points over two games. They’ll host the Grizzlies’ 30th-ranked offense on Tuesday.
The Mavs are in sixth place, ahead of the similarly 22-15 Pelicans because they have a better record (6-3) within the Southwest Division. The standings can change between now and Saturday, but their seven-game homestand will conclude with two huge games against the Pels. They split a two-game set in New Orleans in November, with Doncic and Irving combining for 65 points and 16 assists in the win.
Rank: 10 (Tier 3: Playoff Teams)
Last week: 15
Buyer or seller? Seller.
After their pick conveys to the Knicks this summer, the Mavs will have a couple picks they can play around with, if they’re feeling like being aggressive in grabbing talent to add. I think they should be more of a seller, if we assume Maxi Kleiber will come back to full health this season. Grant Williams hasn’t been a good acquisition, and Richaun Holmes might be someone a hopeful contender brings in for size insurance. But those seem more like moves for the offseason than right before the deadline.
Last week: 12
For much of the last two seasons, the Dallas Mavericks have had to hear plenty about what a mistake it was to let Jalen Brunson walk for nothing (and it certainly was), but his eventual replacement, Kyrie Irving, reminded everyone of his immense offensive upside on Thursday.
With Luka Dončić out with an ankle injury, Kyrie led the Mavs to a win over Brunson’s New York Knicks with 44 points on 15-of-26 shooting and 10 assists.
Over his last five games, the eight-time All-Star is putting up 33.0 points and 5.8 assists. And knowing that he can reach these heights makes Dallas one of the league’s most intriguing playoff teams.
We’ve already seen the “Luka and another dynamic creator” approach lead to a conference finals, and Kyrie might be able to take that approach to a higher level than Brunson did.
Of course, Dallas is also prone to letdowns like Tuesday’s loss to the Ja Morant-less Memphis Grizzlies, so it’s tough to give it a bump this week.