Am I the only one who wants to do a bunch of cocaine with Luka Dončić? I’m not really that into the yayo. I just have a feeling it would be awesome with him. I imagine sitting around a mostly empty discotheque with trashy Eastern Europeans and one of those tiny giraffes from the old Direct TV commercials. Luka is sitting in a corner booth like Tony Montana but wearing a velour tracksuit and drenched in way too much cologne.
Of course, I don’t want to take his focus away from hoops, especially since he’s finally been healthy for a decent stretch of games. I just figured that post-COVID Luka might need some “manufactured” energy. He looked a little off Monday night, despite recording a triple-double. He made just four field goals in 17 attempts and finished 0 of 6 from three.
Speaking of health, Luka shared the floor with one-time unicorn Kristaps Porzingis for the first time in a week during Monday night’s narrow victory over the lowly OKC Thunder.
Each of the Mavs’ highest-paid players have been in and out of the lineup all season, as has a huge chunk of the roster. Between the ravages of COVID and the everyday grind of an 82-game schedule, the front office was pulling guys off the lot at Lowe’s to fill the roster. Things have gone pretty well for the Mavs during the absence of their star players.
This plucky team of also-rans and no-names has become one of the best stories in the NBA. Since Christmas, the Mavs are 10-2, with the likes of 10-day-contract-players Marquese Chriss, Theo Pinson, and Isaiah Thomas Jr. contributing valuable minutes — the former two have been signed to longer deals.
A few things have contributed to the Mavs’ bounce-back this season, and maybe the biggest factor was having to learn how to play without Luka and Kristaps for a stretch. The role players all stepped up, and the team’s focus shifted to the defensive end of the floor — as opposed to its original plan of giving Luka the ball and hoping he does something cool.
Fun fact via Sports Illustrated: “The Mavs have the fifth-best defensive rating and eighth-best net rating in the league this season. Over the last 10 games specifically, Dallas owns the best defensive rating in the league by a large 6.2-point margin.”
The team had hovered around the mid-teens in defensive rating prior to that stretch.
The Mavs pass the eye test, too. They’re bouncy on the defensive end, rotating and switching more decisively, and no longer giving up easy pick-and-roll switches.
Dallas hasn’t radically changed where opponents take shots. As The Athletic’s Tim Cato pointed out, “Since Dec. 12, when the team’s improved play really noticeably began, the Mavs are allowing the 20th-most shots at the rim, the 17th-most shots in the restricted area, the 13th-most midrange shots, and the fourth-most above-the-break 3s. Opposing teams’ shot quality has been firmly middle of the pack in that timeframe too.”
Dallas is forcing teams into contested jump shots. The boys in green and blue are also defending the three-point line incredibly, with opponents converting 30.3%, the second-lowest mark in the league over this recent hot streak. In the season’s first 25 games, the Mavs gave up the second-highest percentage (44.4%).
Driving this sudden spurt of competence are the role players. The Mavs’ roster, thought by most observers to be top-heavy, looks *checks notes* deep.
Jalen Brunson has sprouted into a legit third option. He’s always been a reliable, if limited, offensive player. This season, he’s been decent on the other side of the floor while taking more of a leadership role.
Josh Green, who was buried on Rick Carlisle’s bench, has turned into one of the squad’s best two-way players. He’s always been a freak athlete, and now his shots are starting to fall. In last week’s win against Chicago, he and Brunson both shot 8-for-10 from the field.
Dorian Finney-Smth, Maxi Kleber, and newcomer Reggie Bullock have also stood out during this stretch. Even Dwight Powell has looked like a useful NBA player lately. Still, it’s likely Marquese Chriss’ story that will garner interest from the Hallmark Channel.
In his first 12 games, Chriss averaged 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, while showing off the exact kind of athleticism and nastiness this roster lacked before his arrival. The athletic-if-not-polished 24-year-old forward/center has been traded and waived three times apiece.
You’ve got to hand it to head coach and noted wife-beater Jason Kidd. His scheme has made better use of his available talent, and the players seem to have bought in.
Now that Luka and KP are back on the court together, we’ll see whether or not this run is just a mirage or a new style of play. If the Mavs can maintain greatness without Luka shouldering the load, they may be able to take the next step toward contending for a championship.
The day Luka hoists that championship trophy, I’ll be there to help him celebrate — with a bail of blow in tow.