When it comes to sports coverage, there’s no doubt our hometown pigskin purveyors sit atop the media mountain. The NFL looms like a colossus high above the other leagues in sports consumption, and the Dallas Cowboys dominate the NFL’s media domination. Jerry Jones’ $8B plaything remains the most valuable sports franchise in the world. With countless words steadily put into print and endless segments on radio and TV constantly burned on whether Tony Pollard should start at running back over Ezekiel Elliott or if Dak Prescott is really a $40M quarterback, it’s easy to forget that the worthwhile local sports landscape is really quite wide. This “other sports amnesia” is only compounded when the Cowboys are winning, yet as they have been steadily climbing the NFL power rankings, the kid brother leagues in town are boasting plenty of reasons to compete for room inside your otherwise football-stuffed sports brain.
Since cranking back up a few weeks ago, the Dallas Stars are sending an exciting new-look team over the boards and onto the ice. New head coach Peter DeBoer seems to be turning the page on years (decades) of Stars teams composed of gritty yet aging and offensively challenged veterans running various analogous versions of the coma-inducing neutral zone trap. Under the tutelage of DeBoer, this year’s Stars finally look young, fast, and high-scoring. Leading the way is third-year phenom Jason Robertson, who signed a four-year contract extension that puts him in the top 10% of salary earners in the league this offseason. So far, his point/game clip has him earning the extra dough. Adding to the high-flying youth movement are forward Mason Marchment acquired from the Florida Panthers (4G, 3A), defenseman Nils Lundkvist (3A), and rookie center Wyatt Johnson (3G, 1A).
Though faster-skating and better-skilled, the team hasn’t sacrificed a ton of its historically characteristic grit as captain Jamie Benn is still logging big minutes along with “Captain America” Joe Pavelski and scrappers like Radek Faksa and Jani Hakanpaa. Despite the newfound scoring prowess, it’s perhaps goalie Jake Ottinger (also recently extended) who has had the most impact on the team’s fast start. The second-year starter sits near the top of nearly every goalie stat through his six starts. Otter leads the league in goals against average (1.40), is second in save percentage (0.952), and tied for second in wins (5) and in shutouts (1). The youth infusion has led the team Dallas to a 5-3-1 record that sees them sitting atop the Central Division. Sadly, the Stars will be without Otter’s services for a least a week as he’s saddled with the ever-cryptic “lower body” injury designation.
High scoring is an attribute the Stars share with their American Airlines Center bunkmates in the little Mavericks. Though hovering around .500, led by a seemingly possessed Luka Dončić, the Mavs are near the league’s best in points/game. After setting a new season-high 44 points (more than 30 in the first half) against Orlando on Saturday, No. 77 has scored at least 30 points in each of the Mavs’ first six games, a feat not accomplished in the NBA since Michael Jordan did it in 1986. Luka’s 36.7 points per game leads the league, and his 220 total points has him ranked second, behind only Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant.
Chipping in on the offensive side, fellow guard Spencer Dinwiddie and newly acquired center Christian Wood are contributing 16 points per game apiece with a now healthy Tim Hardaway Jr. adding 15 per game off the bench.
Unfortunately, the defensive acumen that head coach Jason Kidd instilled last year has so far not carried over. The Mavs’ points against have risen nearly a full six points per game from 104.9 a year ago to 110.5 through their first six games. Defensive liabilities have seen Dallas blow big leads late in games that a year ago would have sent Luka and the starters to the bench for rest with victory ensured. A lack of D accountability is no doubt contributing to Wood’s minutes decreasing each game.
Since Kidd took his team to the Western Conference Finals just five months ago, I feel he’s earned some equity and trust to turn the early defensive struggles around. Hell, with the way Luka is playing, even if the Mavs give up 115 a game, the Slovenian Superstar just might score enough himself to keep them in most games. We say it every year, but we could be watching an MVP season developing for the 23-year-old. If he keeps up this pace, it would be a crime on par with trying to steal the 2020 election to deny him the award. Per usual, the Mavericks remain worth watching for Dončić alone.