A brutal loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. A dominant win over the Brooklyn Nets. This is the story of Dallas all season.
The Mavericks’ biggest Achilles’ heel is the lack of consistent offensive and defensive output based on the night in question.
Against Philadelphia, the Mavs struggled to score. Doncic found immense difficulty in generating offense against Ben Simmons. And the lack of a true defensive-minded big man in Kristaps Porzingis’ absence allowed Joel Embiid to carve out necessary space around the basket. The result, a 111-97 loss.
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) February 26, 2021
However, against Philadelphia, Dallas played with more life. Decisions looked, and felt, as though they came quicker for the Mavericks. Luka Doncic played with freedom and often wasn’t bothered by the varying defenders Brooklyn threw his way. He ended the game with 27 points and seven assists. Dallas’ defense also kicked it into gear, holding James Harden to four second-half points, after giving up 25 to him in the first. The result, a much-needed 115-98 win.
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) February 28, 2021
These results are the two extremes of Mavs basketball. And to blame is the continued inconsistency the team has battled throughout the entire season.
Looking into Dallas’ inconsistencies:
Dallas’ 7-3 record in the last 10 games looks great on paper. However, when looking at the schedule the Mavericks played the Warriors twice (19-15), the Timberwolves (7-27), the Hawks (14-19), the Trail Blazers (18-14) the Pelicans (14-19), the Grizzlies (14-15), the Celtics (16-17), the 76ers (22-12), and the Nets (22-13).
The three losses Dallas took during that stretch were to the Warriors, Blazers, and 76ers. All three are playoff teams. Five of the seven wins Dallas stacked up in the last 10 games came against teams with sub .500 records. And to add, four of the seven wins came in games decided by five points or less. A bounce here, or a bounce there, could have easily swung the outcomes of those contests drastically for Dallas. And on Sunday, though the win looked impressive, the Mavs beat a Nets team that didn’t feature its two other All-Stars.
All this to say, Mavs fans can not be blinded by the 7-3 record in the last 10 games. Many of the issues that have plagued Dallas continue to do so. And though this team is immensely talented, its baseline production still isn’t as good as it should be with Porzingis and Doncic paired together.
Dallas still relies too heavily on Doncic to be historic every night. Against the 76ers, Simmons took Luka out of the game. The result was an anemic Dallas offense that couldn’t score if given the necessary open opportunities.
Doncic may be the team’s best player, but he can’t be the end-all-be-all of everything offensively. That model, though it allows for Doncic to put up huge numbers, isn’t conducive to winning. And over the course of the long NBA season, it wears out the player tasked with creating everything for everyone on the court.
Dallas needs to use what happened against the 76ers as an example of what will happen in a playoff series. Teams are going to key in on Doncic, and if Porzingis is unavailable, the Mavs will be dead on arrival come playoff time.
There are moments for Dallas where it looks as though it has its defensive issues sorted out. The second half against Brooklyn was one of these moments. Players like Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway jr., and Dorian Finney-Smith flew around the court disrupting plays and making life difficult for the only star playing for Brooklyn.
And that is what makes Saturday’s game so difficult to quantify for Dallas. Without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing, Dallas committed to double-teaming James Harden, forcing the ball out of his hands throughout the second-half. It wasn’t a fair fight. A hobbled and injured Brooklyn team simply didn’t have enough offensive weapons without its big three to counter Dallas’ defensive gameplan.
In a playoff series, where a team has all its stars available, can Dallas defend? That question still has yet to be answered for the Mavs.
Dallas, as a team, is nothing short of a mixed bag. One night the Mavs may look like one of the best teams in the league. The next night, Dallas looks as if it doesn’t belong on the same floor as the other team. There is no consistency in effort and focus for this team. At least not yet.
Porzingis’ presence clearly makes a difference, but with him, there is no guaranteed health. The good news is that the Mavs close out the first half of the season against two struggling teams in Orlando and Oklahoma City. And with a majority of the roster healthy going into the second half of the season, there is certainly hope that this feisty group can start to figure things out.
Feature image via Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports