Here’s our five takeaways from the Mavericks’ 123-120 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.
No excuses, but . . .: The Mavericks are missing Kristaps Porzingis. Of that, there is no doubt. Tim Hardaway Jr., too, but it’s the rebounding and defensive presence that are lacking and that’s right in KP’s wheelhouse. The Mavericks have been outrebounded by 17 in the three games that Porzingis has missed with a sore right knee. Before those three games, they were one of the best rebounding teams in the league, averaging three more per game than their opponent. In addition, the Mavericks have been outshot in both losses while going 1-2 without Porzingis. And the 56 points in the paint they gave up to the Hornets (a season worst) were equal parts a function of poor perimeter defense that allowed Charlotte’s guards into the paint and no presence of a rim protector. The Mavericks went 2-2 in December when Luka Doncic missed time with an ankle sprain. And that was against four superior playoff-caliber teams. They are not doing as good a job of picking up the slack without Porzingis and Hardaway. Coach Rick Carlisle is adamant that this team won’t use any excuse to explain away losses. Injuries are part of sports. But dealing with them is never easy.
Free for the taking? Not: The Mavericks scored a season-high 60 points in the paint on 30-of-44 shooting. They were 15-of-50 from 3-point range. That means they made exactly two shots (on six attempts) from inside the arc, but outside the paint. With all that activity close to the rim, the amazing thing is the Mavericks shot just 13 free throws, making 11. Charlotte was 28-of-31 from the free-throw line. That’s a hard discrepancy to overcome.
Don’t take Luka for granted: This is getting to be so routine that it sounds like a broken record. Another triple double for Luka Doncic. His 10th of the season passed Jason Kidd for triple doubles in a season with 10. To which Doncic said: “I don’t care.” And Doncic isn’t getting those 13-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple doubles that Kidd use to pile up. Doncic had 39 points to go with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He’s simply a scoring machine that can do everything else, too. But if he’d had seven points, five rebounds and three assists and the Mavericks won, he’d be happier.
Maximum effort and plus/minus report: Maxi Kleber had a career night with 24 points amassed mostly on 3-point shooting. He made 6-of-12 shots from distance. Both the 3-pointers and the point total were career highs. Unfortunately, the Mavericks were a minus-12 when Kleber was on the court. That gave him something in common with Doncic as the Mavericks were minus-5 in Doncic’s career-high 43 minutes. The only double-figure plus/minus for the team belonged to J.J. Barea, who started, played a season-high 33 minutes and was a plus-12. He also had 11 points and nine assists, including a beauty on a lob pass to Dorian Finney-Smith that was the highlight of a game that didn’t have enough of them for the Mavs.
Circle Feb. 8 on the calendar: This is one of those games that the Mavericks have to get back somewhere. Winning at Charlotte in February would be an acceptable start. The Mavericks started this home stand with a solid win against Brooklyn, but this was the kind of setback that should not happen in your own house. Charlotte is a rebuilding team and the Mavericks, as Dorian Finney-Smith said, need to “come out with a little more fight, especially at home.” The early game deficits that the Mavericks often find themselves in are starting to bite them more frequently.