TORONTO – We’re here today to bring you a tale of three Mavericks, each of whom have flashed different ways to be winners over the last few games.
With Luka Doncic sidelined, it’s been an interesting week for Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson and Rick Carlisle.
Hardaway and Brunson have been the starting backcourt for the three games that Doncic has missed. They have helped guide the Mavericks to a 2-1 record going into the final game before Christmas, Sunday afternoon (2:30 p.m. tip) at Toronto.
It’s been Carlisle and his staff who have pushed some different buttons, pulled some different levers and changed the way the Mavericks play, particularly at the offensive end of the floor.
“We’re deep,” Carlisle said after the Mavericks’ thumped Philadelphia 117-98 on Friday night. “This has been a good thing for us, just from the standpoint of having other guys being put in the situation to have to step up.
“It’s forced us as coaches to make certain adjustments. You never want to be without a guy like Luka Doncic. He’s a great all-around player. And we need him back as soon as possible.
“But as long as he’s out, we have a plan and the guys are executing well.”
Hardaway has had the most interesting situation during the games without Doncic. Against Milwaukee and Boston, he was mired in a nasty shooting slump.
He had shot a combined 5-for-27 against the Bucks and Celtics, including 3-of-15 from 3-point range. For a guy hitting 37.5 percent from 3-point range on the season, this was a revolting development.
So Hardaway did what shooters do. He shot. He spent hours in the Mavericks’ practice facility before the road trip to Philly and Toronto working on his shot. It wasn’t so much a mechanics thing as it was a balance issue. He needed to stay straight and not lean to either side.
“Yeah, I did,” Hardaway said when asked if he put a lot of extra work in over the last week. “A lot of extra shooting, actually. I got into my routine. Coach came in and helped a little bit with pointers here and there. And (shots) started falling in practice. I just took it to the game and wanted to carry it over. And it worked.”
Having Carlisle take time to augment the work by his assistants and shooting coach Peter Patton had its impact on Hardaway.
“He’s a master at his craft and he wants his players to do the exact same,” Hardaway said. “Preparation is everything.”
And on cue, Hardaway busted out by hitting 7-of-11 3-pointers in Philadelphia to score a team-best 27 points in the runaway win.
Brunson, meanwhile, has been the new engine for the Mavericks in Doncic’s absence. The 6-1 point guard is smaller than Doncic, and he doesn’t handle the ball as much as the MVP candidate does.
But that’s helped a lot of other Mavericks prosper as they have focused on a movement and flow offense the past few games.
“I’m just doing my job, trying to lead in different ways, trying to find ways to win,” Brunson said. “Being a leader has kind of what I’ve always been, no matter what position I’m in.”
And with impressive wins in Doncic’s stead at Milwaukee and at Philadelphia, Brunson has been the definition of solid and steady, averaging 11.3 points and 9.7 assists as the Mavericks have gone 2-1 without Doncic.
And the road wins have proven his – and his teammates’ – toughness.
“We’re just together,” Brunson said. “We’re all we got inside those lines. We know Philly and Dallas don’t really get along. It was just us coming in and doing our job and playing for 48 minutes.
“It’s a championship culture that was set before us. We’re just doing our best to try to get it back. The pieces we have, the character that guys possess, we have a special group.”
That normally shows up through adversity like the Doncic sprained right ankle, which could keep him out again Sunday, although he has ramped up activity in recent days.
“The chemistry’s good in the locker room,” said Kristaps Porzingis, who has been stellar in the last four games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in each. “Chemistry translates on the floor. We play hard. And we have a great coaching staff, great support system. And we just got out and do what we’re supposed to.
“We follow the game plan and play hard. And the results come. That’s it. There’s no secret.”
That nod to the coaching staff shows that the players have a respect for the system. And the absence of Doncic has given everybody an opportunity to show that it’s working quite well one-third of the way through the season.