The shorthanded Dallas Mavericks (29-23) held off an even more shorthanded version of the New York Knicks (30-19), 122-108 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Luka Dončić went off for 39 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and dragged the rest of the crew along for a rather rugged-looking win — the team’s third straight on the current road swing.
Amid all of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline hoopla, with the Mavericks completing not one but two deadline-day deals and the Knicks completing one of their own, fans of both teams may have forgotten the pesky bit of business at hand between the two squads that was scheduled months in advance. The actual basketball game — which was a weird one.
Both teams came into Thursday’s game short-handed, with a combination of injuries and absences from players who had been traded from both rosters. The Mavericks were without Dante Exum (knee bursitis) and Dereck Lively II (broken nose), but also Richaun Holmes, Seth Curry and Grant Williams, who were traded away earlier on trade-deadline day. Williams and Curry were shipped to Charlotte along with a 2027 top-2 protected first-round draft pick for forward P.J. Washington and two future second-rounders, while Holmes and another first-rounder (by way of Oklahoma City) were sent to Washington as part of the deal that brings center Daniel Gafford to Dallas.
New York came in even worse for their wear, without forward Julius Randle (dislocated shoulder) and recent acquisition OG Anunoby (elbow surgery, re-evaluated in three weeks), who were known to be out for Thursday’s game in advance, but Jalen Brunson came into Thursday as questionable with a sprained ankle and ended up sitting out as well. New York was also without backup guard Quentin Grimes and three others who dwelled near the end of the bench, who were traded away in a deadline-day deal to acquire forward Bojan Bogdanovich and guard Alec Burks from Detroit.
On Dallas’ end, the trades will certainly bolster the Mavericks’ frontline both this season and potentially longer term, but in the very shortest term on Thursday it left the Mavs with just Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber and the rarely used Markieff Morris available against the Knicks.
The trades made both teams’ rotations more than a little wonky. Weird things were bound to be afoot Thursday at MSG. So let’s get weird — with five weird things from this weird, weird game.
The Mavericks used their 29th different starting lineup Thursday against the Knicks in 52 games so far this season. At tip, even with a starting lineup of Dončić, Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, Derrick Jones Jr. and Kleber, you had to like the Mavericks’ chances of pulling off a third consecutive win on this East Coast road swing. Even with a short bench, at least they still had their two stars — the Knicks could not say the same. But the game got off to a murky start, with the Mavs missing five of their first six 3-point attempts.
Seeing Tim Hardaway Jr., Jaden Hardy and Kyrie Irving together late in the first was jarring to witness at first, but the Mavs held their own against a woefully undermanned Knicks squad — which is to say that Thursday’s game was not a particularly beautiful thing to watch. They had an eight-point lead late in the first before Miles McBride’s floater as time expired in the frame to cut the Mavericks’ lead to 28-22.
Talk about wonky rotations — McBride led all scorers after one quarter with eight points.
Wobbly perimeter shooting
Dallas started the game just 4-of-16 from 3-point range before Dončić found Irving wide open at the top of the key with a behind-the-back pass for Irving’s first 3-point attempt of the game late in the second. It was pure — and it put the Mavs up 44-35 with 5:26 left before halftime.
As a result, Dallas had a hard time extending their lead past nine or 10 points in the first half. The ankle-biting Knicks hung around until Dante DiVincenzo got downright dangerous. His third 3-pointer of the first half brought the Knicks back to within seven, down 49-42 with 3:45 left in the second. DiVincenzo led all scorers at halftime with 13 and ended up having a brilliant game — 36 points on 7-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
But Luka Dončić’s playmaking is inevitable, and he piled up the assists when the Mavs’ available shooters began to find their rhythm. Despite it all, the Mavericks took a 59-48 lead into the break in a game where they were shooting just 6-of-18 from beyond the arc. Aside from DiVincenzo, the Knicks junior varsity looked lost on offense at times, shooting just 2-of-11 from deep and just 18-of-45 (40%) from the field overall in the first half.
Dončić led the Mavs with 12 points, eight assists and five boards in a somewhat sluggish first half for both teams.
Dogs and cats living together
That’s a Ghostbusters reference for anyone who missed it. The Mavericks used a lot more Kyrie-screening-for-Luka action against the Knicks than we’ve seen for most of 2023-24. I can just hear Bill Murray shouting “Human sacrifice! Kyrie screening for Luka! Luka screening for Kyrie! Mass hysteria!”
It added a layer to the offense as Dallas started to perk up in the second and pull away in the third quarter. Dončić and Irving are both such good shooters, ball handlers and passers that those type of screens put the defense in a particularly terrible position.
Take, for instance, Josh Green’s first 3-pointer, which came with 4:42 to play in the first half. Kyrie screened for Dončić, Dončić got to the rim and kicked it back out to Irving, who swung the ball to Green, who was open for days. Good ball movement beats a temporarily stunned defense every day of the week.
Anyway, the Mavs started hitting a few more 3-pointers as the third quarter progressed. The Dallas lead ballooned to 15 and then 20 points as the third quarter wore on and the Mavericks took an 87-71 lead into the fourth. They shot 6-of-14 from 3-point range in the third.
Spencer Dinwiddie sighting
Well this one was certainly strange to behold. Former Maverick (and now former Brooklyn Net, and former Toronto Raptor) could be spotted sitting in the crowd in gen-pop, among the hoi polloi behind the Mavericks’ bench.
Spencer Dinwiddie sitting behind the Mavs bench tonight pic.twitter.com/JbrXQCSGEa— MavsMuse (@MavsMuse) February 9, 2024
The scuttle on X, formerly Twitter, seemed to be that he was certainly being recruited to the Mavs and maybe (because wild, irresponsible speculation is fun) sitting in tickets bought by a certain coach of a certain team from a certain city in North Texas. He was dealt by Brooklyn to the Raptors earlier in the day, and then less than 30 minutes later he was reportedly waived by the Raptors, due in no small part to a looming $ 20 million roster bonus that no NBA team wanted to pay.
Kidd reacts to the trades. Freudian slip when he asked for patience and said “anytime you add two players, maybe three” . . . ? pic.twitter.com/m7F9vWPISd— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) February 9, 2024
Could Dinwiddie have been who Mavericks coach Jason Kidd was playfully referring to in his postgame reference to adding “two, maybe three players” at and/or following the trade deadline? Post-deadline buzz on social media indicated the Mavs might be one of the teams to pursue Dinwiddie in the post-buyout market, and hey it was just a 15-minute subway ride from Brooklyn, so why not take in a game?
Marc Cuban recruiting his ass off with Dinwiddie lol.— Glen (@Glenjr1988) February 9, 2024
The train of busted noses just won’t stop
There will be blood. Coming from a Dallas Maverick’s nose. That seems to be a running theme recently, and it reared its ugly head once again late in the fourth quarter against the Knicks.
Maxi Kleber took a blow to the schnoz from Knicks guard Josh Hart with less than three minutes to play, which sent him to the bench, and then to the locker room for the remainder of the game. He joins Dončić and Lively on the list of Mavs currently suffering from varying degrees of beak pain. Backup big man Dwight Powell is no stranger to getting smacked in the face, either, just generally speaking.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks’ leaf hovered around 10-14 points for most of the fourth quarter. The Mavs couldn’t take Dončić out until there were about two minutes left. He played just over 40 minutes and — checks notes, yep — still leads the universe in minutes played. Here’s hoping some reinforcements in the form of a couple of new teammates, help the vibe going forward.
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