Before Saturday’s game, all the buzz about the Mavericks centered on how Luka Doncic is getting roughed up by defenses.
By the end of the night, the Mavericks did a good enough job of beating themselves that they didn’t need help from the Charlotte Hornets.
Nothing is coming easy for the Mavericks these days, especially on their home floor. Against the Hornets, a sluggish start, subpar defense, terrible rebounding and a horrible shooting stretch from 3-point range combined to sabotage them in a 123-120 overtime loss that probably should never have happened.
The visitors rolled up a 20-point lead in the second quarter and though the Mavericks recovered to go up by 12 in the fourth quarter, they appeared a step slow down the stretch and the Hornets took advantage.
Doncic, who addressed physical play in his postgame media session, had another monster game with 39 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, his 10th triple double of the season.
But he blamed himself for not closing out this one.
“Terrible. We should have won it in the fourth quarter,” Doncic said. “I messed it up. I didn’t make great decisions — terrible decisions. I got to be better than that.
“The first quarter was bad, then we came back and in the fourth quarter, we didn’t do a good job.”
It wasn’t just Doncic. There were problems throughout, save for an excellent third quarter that got the Mavericks the lead.
By the extra period, the Mavericks’ defense that had been too loose all night was dreadful as they couldn’t stop the Hornets, who danced off with the win by scoring on nine of their final 10 possessions.
The Mavericks missed a chance to win the game in regulation when Doncic clanged a 3-pointer. The Mavericks shot 50 3-pointers on the night and made just 15. They also allowed the Hornets to shoot better than 49 percent from the field.
In the overtime, the Hornets inched ahead 112-109 with 1:48 to go as Devonte Graham (27 points) converted a tough layup. Maxi Kleber, who was on his way to a career-best 24 points, knocked in a 3-pointer, but Terry Rozier (29 points) answered with his own triple on the next possession to put the Hornets up 117-114 with 41.2 showing.
The Mavericks missed a 3-pointer, but Dorian Finney-Smith got a clutch offensive rebound and Kleber flushed a dunk to make it a one-point game. At that point, it became a question of whether the Hornets could make their free throws. And they made all six of them in the final 21 seconds to secure the win.
The loss dropped the Mavericks to 1-1 on this six-game home stand and 22-13 for the season. And their home woes continued as they fell to 10-8 at AAC, which puts a damper on their glittery 12-5 road record.
It was another grand night for Doncic, even though it was in defeat.
And about two hours before tipoff, coach Rick Carlisle was offering a very controlled rant about how Doncic is getting roughed up perhaps beyond the rules of the game by opponents desperate to find a way to slow down the MVP candidate.
“It’s been going on the entire season,” Carlisle said. “They’re beating the (heck) out of him. He’s handling it well. But teams are taking liberties on him.
“I don’t like it. And I’m constantly communicating it to the people involved. But look, he’s a great player and people are going to go after him. It doesn’t mean that a lot of this stuff is right or in the spirit of what the game should look like.”
It’s becoming common for Doncic as he quickly has risen to one of the NBA’s most dangerous weapons offensively.
“We saw it with Dirk (Nowitzki) all the time, taking physical liberties on him, trying to knock him down, beat him up, stuff like that,” Carlisle said. “It’s not good. He’s handling it very well, but it’s happening every game.
“We just got to make the officials aware of it constantly. What happens is teams will come in and set a level of aggressiveness to where there’s a level where it’s so physical that they only call a certain number of fouls. We have to be able to play like that. We have an aggressive team. But taking liberties is not good. He’s got scratches all over his arms all the time. Not good.”
Doncic said he’s trying to fight through the hard play, but was thankful that his coach has his back.
“I know he’s going to stand up for me, not just for me, for everybody,” Doncic said. “That’s the kind of coach he is.
“I’m not going to lie. Basketball’s a physical game. If the refs see it, they’re going to call it, if they don’t see it, they’re not going to call it. I just got to keep going.”
The senior Mavericks’ player said the physical play is something that Doncic has to learn from because it’s only going to get worse when the stakes rise.
“Some people try to do it too hard,” said J.J. Barea. “I notice it. I knew it was going to come. They (opponents) got to do something.
“He’s got the body to handle it, but sometimes it gets a little crazy. I think the refs are going to see it a little more. But it’s going to come. And it’s going to come hard. And then in the playoffs, it’s even going to be way worse and there’s going to be no calls. It’s something we got to learn and get better at.”
Of course, on nights like Saturday, the Mavericks had only themselves to blame for a regrettable loss. They missed their first 10 3-pointers and were 4-of-22 from long range by halftime. Then, in the fourth quarter, they went cold again, going 2-for-11 from distance. That they were outrebounded 53-41 didn’t help matters.
Clearly, this team is missing Kristaps Porzingis, but as Carlisle said, there’s no point talking about that because there’s no timetable for his return.
“Look, we built a (12-point) lead in the fourth quarter and let it slip away,” Carlisle said. “That’s on all of us.”