Here’s our takeaways from Sunday’s 110-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings, which snapped the Mavericks’ five-game winning streak.
Tough night for bench can be dismissed: The Mavericks’ reserves have been one of the strengths of the team all season. Sunday was not one of those days, however. Six Mavericks saw action off the bench and they combined to shoot 8-for-25 from the field. They were outscored by the three Kings who saw action in reserve roles 26-18. This is a complete aberration. For the season, the Mavericks’ bench is averaging 44 points per game. That’s 13 more than the opponents’ set of backups. The reserves have been particularly good in games on the second night of back-to-backs when the starters might need some added rest. The Mavericks got a season-best 67 bench points in Memphis the night after losing to New York. The reserves more than doubled Minnesota’s bench with 45 points last week after winning in New Orleans the night before. This was an off game. But rest assured the Mavericks’ bench remains one of their best assets.
The defense rests: Mostly because of a deplorable defensive first half, the Mavericks were gouged by Sacramento’s 51.8-percent shooting from the field. The Kings were just the third team this season to make more than half their shots against the Mavericks and the first since Memphis in mid-November. It was a bad defensive showing. Last season, by the way, they had 16 games in which the opponent shot 50 percent or better from the field. Clearly, their defensive effort has improved this season and is a point of emphasis. It should stay that way, even after one klunker.
In praise of Hardaway: Tim Hardaway Jr. had one of those “in the zone” shooting games, scoring 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, including 9-of-12 from 3-point range. That’s what he does. The interesting thing is that he didn’t get a single shot in seen fourth-quarter minutes when the Mavericks were making their comeback. The Kings clearly started stepping up on him defensively. It almost backfired as the Mavericks rallied. But the point is that Hardaway has been really good in 10 games since getting into the starting lineup, averaging better than 17 points. It’s no coincidence that the Mavericks have gone 8-2 in that stretch.
Growth spurt for Doncic: Luka Doncic is getting pushed around. At least that’s what it appears opponents are trying to do – get physical with him and see if the 20-year-old superstar can take it and still prosper. Doncic did the right thing and talked calmly and smartly about the officiating after the game. He is getting a lot of contact virtually every time he goes to the basket. But he shot only five free throws on Sunday. It must be noted that he averages more than nine free throws per game, which would indicate he’s getting the right amount of respect from the refs. He’s picked up a couple of technical fouls in recent games, including one Sunday that he definitely deserved. After the game, he said he understands he needs to control his emotions better. The guess here is that will come with time. He’s still a kid, even if his battle scars and years of professional experience might belie that point. This is just another learning moment for a young superstar who will have a lot of them before he’s done.
Head east young men; the schedule gets nasty: The Mavericks are fixing to play six consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents. It starts with a dangerous Detroit team in Mexico City on Thursday. After that, it’s Miami, Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto. Those would be the five top teams in the Eastern Conference, with the Bucks, Sixers and Raptors coming on the road. This is not exactly an early Christmas present, but the Mavericks must find a way to tread water over the next two weeks.