Playing from behind is difficult. Playing from behind, without the team’s best player feels impossible.

In the Dallas Mavericks disappointing 109-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers, defensive miscues cemented Dallas’ fate long before the final buzzer sounded.

From the end of the first quarter on, defensive mistakes left Dallas vulnerable to Indiana’s movement-based offensive approach. By halftime, the Pacers led by double-digits. And though Dallas went on a third-quarter run to close the gap to four. Indiana shut the door on a comeback attempt midway through the fourth quarter.

“The game started flowing nicely for both teams. There wasn’t a whole lot of defense early,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “We didn’t end the quarter well and ended up with a deficit in the first. The second quarter wasn’t much better…That set a poor tone.”

With the loss, the Mavericks drop to 23-20 on the season. Meanwhile, Indiana improves to 21-23. Loss aside, there are still some interesting observations to be made from Friday night’s contest.

Key observations:

1.) In the absence of Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis looked great. Dallas’ big man tallied 31 points and 18 rebounds. It marked the second game of his career with 30+ points and 15+ rebounds. The last time he did so was on July 31 of 2020, in the bubble.

Porzingis has gotten out to quick starts in recent games. And it looks as though in the first quarter, Dallas is intentionally looking to get him involved offensively. He attributes it to his teammates looking to get him the ball more and just being aggressive.

As a 7-foot-3 player with guard-like skills, he is a well-documented matchup nightmare. In a guard-heavy league, an active big man gives Dallas a real advantage on the floor. And Porzingis’ last few games should serve as proof of that.

2.) Three-point shooting tormented Dallas all night. The Mavericks shot a frigid 8-35 from behind the arc. Percentage-wise that is good enough for 22.9. Indiana shot 42 percent on its three-point attempts, making 20 of them. If you don’t look at anything else, look at the missed three-point opportunities as a reason Dallas couldn’t get the job done tonight.

3.) What Doncic provides for the Mavericks isn’t just the gaudy numbers. He is a stabilizing force for the team. He is capable of those quick 7-0 runs, just by himself. Without him on the floor, Dallas has to manufacture offense from players who don’t typically create shots for others. It’s no surprise that Dallas missed Doncic Friday night. Without his gravity on the floor, there was a lack of open looks available for Mavs shooters. It’s easier to close out on shooters without an All-NBA level player barreling down the lane. For as good as Jalen Brunson is, he doesn’t scare defenses like Doncic.

Looking ahead:

The good news is that Dallas heads back out on the road after Friday’s game. And the Mavs have played better away from home all season (12-10). The bad news is that this Mavericks road tilt is tough: New Orleans (Zion), Oklahoma City (competitive), Boston (star-studded), New York (defensive & gritty), Washington (a wild card). If the Mavs can drop a game to the struggling Pacers, any of these teams can pose a threat.

It’s to the point in the season where every win matters. Dallas needs to regroup after Friday and quickly because one bad week can lead the team being on the outside looking in when it comes to the conference standings.

Related reading on Dallas Mavericks. 

Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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