Here’s our five takeaways from the Mavericks’ 119-109 loss at San Antonio Tuesday night.
Wha’ happened? The first-ever sweep by the Mavericks of the Spurs didn’t materialize. They had won the first three meetings this season, but couldn’t complete the sweep because they unraveled late in the third quarter and thrughout the fourth. The Mavericks were up by 13 in the third quarter. It was at that point that coach Rick Carlisle said the need was greatest to push harder, match the Spurs’ upgraded effort and bury the home team. It’s usually not that easy. The Spurs are full of fight as they head down the stretch with the playoffs still a possibility (for what would be a 23rd consecutive year, by the way). The Mavericks got a little bit complacent after building their third-quarter cushion. That can’t happen against the Spurs. “We kind of slowed down, stopped playing,” said Maxi Kleber. “We had a couple of shots that were like bad shot selection and that hurt us on defense, too.” Added Luka Doncic: “Yeah, that may be true. We should just push more.”
Speaking of Luka: The 6-7 point guard had monster numbers, but there were times when he didn’t look completely like himself. His right wrist clearly was bothering him, especially on a trip to the rim in the second half when he got hacked and immediately grabbed his wrist and doubled over in pain. “I tried to fight through it,” Doncic said afterward. The question facing the Mavericks is this: with a playoff spot virtually guaranteed, should they take some time to get Doncic as healthy as possible? If he’s not at or near 100 percent in the playoffs, it’s probably unlikely the Mavericks can make any noise. It’s certainly an issue worth monitoring in the final month of the season.
Help: The Mavericks are struggling right now largely because they don’t have Seth Curry and they don’t have Jalen Brunson. Those are two extremely critical members of their backcourt. Brunson keeps the ship floating when Doncic takes a break. Curry is the best shooter on the team, just ahead of Tim Hardaway Jr. When they re on the court together, life is so much simpler for everybody else. The Mavericks need to get helping hands back on the court. In the last eight games, the Mavericks’ bench has averaged 23.9 points. The opponents’ bench has averaged 47.6 points per game. That’s a direct reflection on not having their key scorer’s off the bench. And we forget that the loss of Dwight Powell further shortened the bench brigade.
Seventh heaven: The Mavericks were out-balanced in this one. The Spurs had seven players in double figures, had 32 assists on 46 baskets and basically just played a more team-style of game in the second half, which they won 65-50, by the way. You can point to any number of defensive snafus in this one, but the Mavericks simply did not execute as well as the Spurs did on either end of the court, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Are you really counting out the Spurs? They are three games behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the loss column for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. If they get to 40 wins, which would require them to go 13-6 the rest of the way, they would have a decent chance of squeezing into the postseason, extending their run of 22 consecutive playoff appearances. Admittedly, they have to jump four teams. But with three games left with New Orleans, two with Sacramento and one with Memphis, they have a puncher’s chance of making this happen.