How the Sacramento Kings aren’t favored to win the NBA championship is a mystery to the Mavericks.
They look like world-beaters every time they go against Luka Dončić and Co.
Certainly Maverick-beaters, at the least.
The Kings made it a clean sweep in the past 15 days when they blew open a tight game in the third quarter, then held on for a 111-99 victory Sunday night at American Airlines Center.
It completed a 3-0 season series sweep over the Mavericks for the Kings. They are 24-37 against the rest of the NBA.
The good news is that the Mavericks won’t have to see the Kings again until next season.
The bad news is that this was a major hit for them in the Western Conference standings. The events of Sunday night left the Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers tied at 36-28.
It appears these three teams will finish fifth, sixth and seventh, in some order. The seventh team will have to survive the play-in tournament to make the playoffs. The fifth and sixth teams will not.
Whether or not the Kings are a bad matchup for the Mavericks can be debated. But it was clear on Sunday that the Mavericks did not bring the hit-first attitude that they love to embrace.
What they did have were several emotional outbursts as both Dončić and coach Rick Carlisle were ejected late in the game when they picked up their second technical fouls.
The two techs for Dončić give him 15 for the season. When a player gets his 16th, he is subject to an automatic one-game suspension, although it’s possible the Mavericks will seek to have at least one of his technical on Sunday rescinded.
“It’s something we’ve been making him aware of,” Carlisle said. “Look, I set a poor example tonight by getting two myself. So, that’s on me. I apologized to the team after the game for it, too. It’s not the right example.
“I’ve got four technicals this year and they’re all from the same guy (C.J. Washington). I’m not sure what that says. But there’s a saying that reasonable men have a right to disagree. And so, I’ll stick with that.”
Both Carlisle and Dončić had picked up a technical in the second quarter when there was a wheels-off stretch in which both teams were playing physically and there were several controversial calls.
Then, the one that sent Carlisle over the edge was with under a minute to play and the Mavericks down 110-97 after a layup by Sacramento’s Delon Wright.
“I thought the Wright layup in front of our bench, where he shuffled and took an extra one or two steps was clearly a travel,” Carlisle said. “There was no call on that and that was kind of the last straw for me.”
Dončić said that he wasn’t sure why he got the second technical but that both of them he received should be open to review.
“I guess when it was timeout, I threw the ball to the basket,” he said of the fourth-quarter tech. “I guess it was because of that. You get a tech for that? I don’t know.”
As for having 15 of them now and being one away from a suspension, he said: “I won’t get another one. No way. And the first one should get rescinded, too. It was an offensive foul. And I was like, hell no. And he told me I cannot tell him, hell no. Maybe I can tell it to others, but to him, no. And that’s why I got a tech.”
The Mavericks will deal with those issues if and when they happen. But on Sunday, the main problem was that they once again couldn’t solve the Kings.
Sunday was a classic example of absent players compounding the fact that it was the second night of back-to-back games for the Mavericks. It showed as they were often just a step slow defensively against the youthful Kings, who also were down several key players.
The Mavericks trailed by 10 after a quarter and were behind 90-72 when the Kings scored to start the fourth quarter. The Mavericks rallied, and were only down 103-97 with 1:54 left.
But with 1:37 to play, Buddy Hield nailed a 3-pointer to make it a nine-point Sacramento lead. The Mavericks were done at that point.
Wright, the former Maverick, had a huge impact in the fourth quarter, when he scored eight of his 14 points. Hield had 26 for the Kings while Marvin Bagley III, playing his second game since returning from a hand injury, had 23 points and nine rebounds. The Kings were plus-20 while Bagley was on the court.
Dončić had 30 for the Mavericks. But his 1-for-7 shooting from 3-point range was indicative of how the Mavericks were misfiring as they went 6-for-35 from distance.
“We obviously didn’t play well,” Carlisle said. “We really struggled at both ends. We didn’t defend well and we didn’t shoot it well. So it was a difficult night. We go 17 percent from 3, they go almost 40. It’s going to be tough. A difficult game, difficult back-to-back. We got a little unlucky there. But we got to flush this one and get ready for Tuesday.”
The Mavericks play at Miami next. It can’t be much worse than going against the Kings.
“I don’t really know,” Dončić said of the Kings. “I guess it’s not a good matchup. But we got to move to the next one. We have bigger things ahead of us.”