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Mavericks vs. Kings recap: 4 thoughts from a hard-fought loss to Sacramento

A furious rally wasn’t quite enough

Sacramento Kings v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Sacramento Kings by a score of 120-115. Luka Doncic led the way for Dallas with 28 points, while De’Aaron Fox was the high scorer for Sacramento with 34 of his own. On the second night of a back-to-back, coming off a historic and emotional night in Atlanta, the Mavericks simply had no juice for much of this one.

Dallas did embark on a furious fourth-quarter comeback, but they were unable to completely close the gap. This was as “schedule loss” as it gets; the Kings are a very good team and they were just healthier and more rested than Dallas tonight. Doncic didn’t have his legs after scoring 73 points in 45 minutes a night ago, and the Maverick effort was just too little, too late.

Dallas opened the game on fire, scoring the first eight points of the contest. But Sacramento quickly got it going from three and steadied themselves, setting the stage for a tight, back-and-forth opening period. Grant Williams showed signs of life, hitting two threes in the frame. Luka Doncic had a solid quarter before appearing visibly gassed and asking Jason Kidd to be subbed out at the 3:10 mark. No doubt Dallas hoped to keep Doncic on the bench for the remainder of the period— but a ghastly Hardy/Curry/Hardaway/Kleber/Holmes lineup forced Kidd to reinsert Doncic after just 90 seconds of rest. Dallas ended the period ice-cold from the floor and went into the second down 29-25.

Maverick shots continued not to fall early in the second quarter, as Dallas looked sluggish and tired. Sacramento pushed the pace and lived at the rim, building a 12-point lead. The Mavericks responded with a mini-run and sliced that deficit in half, but the Kings gave it right back to them and built their advantage back to double-digit status. Both Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr picked up technical fouls in the second, and frustration with the officiating coincided with poor play. Another dismal close to a quarter saw the Kings take a 14-point lead into the locker room at 63-49.

The Kings opened the third quarter with back-to-back triples to stretch their lead to 20, quickly prompting an angry timeout from Kidd. Things were looking bleak, and everyone would have understood if Dallas hung their heads and given up at this point. But Grant Williams his great night by hitting two threes and getting a nice floater in the lane; a few plays later, a Josh Green triple from the right corner capped a 14-2 Maverick run, trimming the deficit to single digits with seven minutes to go in the third. But again, the Kings had an answer, immediately responding with an identical run and restoring their lead to back to 20.

Just when it looked like it was over, Dallas ignited a furious comeback in the fourth quarter. A 20+ point Kings lead was sliced all the way down to six with a little over two minutes remaining. Tim Hardaway Jr. had a wide-open three-point attempt that would have cut the lead to three, but he missed. Hardaway followed that up by turning the ball over next time down. It soon looked like it was over again, but Sacramento continued to play dumb basketball and even missed two game-sealing free throws, leaving the door ajar for Dallas. But Harrison Barnes hit two free throws with four seconds left, icing the game and dealing the Mavericks a 120-115 defeat. Dallas fought valiantly through adversity, but it wasn’t enough. Here are four observations from a tough loss.

Shoutout to Grant Williams

The beleaguered and much-maligned forward had his best game of the season. He exploded for 27 points (career-high!), and the return of his three ball (seven threes made) was a sight for sore eyes. Williams played hard on defense, moved the ball well, and knocked down open shots that Luka created. This is the self-actualized version of him that Dallas thought they were getting when they traded for him in the offseason, the guy we saw during the first couple weeks of the year. This needs to be a jumping-off point for Williams. So much of shooting the ball is mental, and the hope is that a game like this restores his confidence. The Mavericks need this kind of performance from Williams with more regularity.

Luka Doncic will soon be ground into dust

24 hours after playing 45 minutes with an astronomical usage rate, Luka Doncic played 46 minutes tonight in a losing effort. Over the last five games, he is averaging 41.2 minutes per contest. With Kyrie Irving missing the last three, his usage rate has been through the roof. He is also averaging a career-high in minutes per game this season. And look, like I’ve said before, Dallas has no choice but to do this with the state of the roster. But, like we’ve seen before, he’s going to run out of gas and crater down the stretch of the season if it continues like this. The Mavericks have to get healthy and find a way to buy Doncic some rest.

Back-to-backs stink

If the NBA is serious about improving its product, it will eliminate back-to-backs. Professional basketball games are grueling. They’re especially grueling when one team has to travel across the country to play a second game less than 24 hours after the first one ends. It seemed likely that the exhausted Luka Doncic would sit out tonight. Doncic, to his credit, wanted to give it a go but was predictably gassed and shot terribly. The reality is that this was an important game for Dallas from a standings perspective and with Kyrie Irving, Dante Exum, and Derrick Jones Jr. unavailable, Dallas needed Doncic in the lineup. The fact that they were faced with this difficult decision due to scheduling is stupid. I recognize that every team in the NBA has to go through this. I also recognize that Dallas benefited from a soft schedule with lots of rest early in the season. Most of this is “old man yells at cloud” territory, I’m aware. But, as a fan of the game, it’s frustrating to watch the product suffer like this night after night. I could complain and criticize aspects of the Mavericks’ play tonight, but they competed and gave it all they had against a team with a serious rest advantage.

Enough with the “three small guards” lineups

Eventually, Jason Kidd has to give Olivier Maxence-Prosper a chance. O-Max needs to develop and the Mavericks need size and athleticism on the wing. The lineups featuring Jaden Hardy, Seth Curry, and Tim Hardaway Jr. are horrific on both ends of the floor. It is impossible for such lineups to play defense. Hardy has been awful this year and Curry looks like he might be on his way out of the league. A.J. Lawson is an iffy shooter, but he brings great energy and defense when he plays. Prosper has shown flashes of domination on D. It’s time to give those guys a look on the second unit, especially in back-to-back situations like this.