Kristaps Porzingis won the battle. But the Mavericks still are winning the war.
Their express train to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference suffered a temporary derailment on Friday night as Porzingis and the Washington Wizards rumbled to a 135-103 victory over the Mavericks at Capital One Arena.
Porzingis, who was traded to the Wizards on Feb. 10 for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertāns, had 24 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting with his former team.
The Wizards are out of the playoff race, but for one night, they didn’t look anything like a lottery team.
The Mavericks are headed to the playoffs and still are on track to start the playoffs at home, despite the lopsided loss on Friday.
They can chalk this one up as simply a dud. They were playing their ninth game in the last 15 days and third in four days. The hectic schedule seemed to catch up with them.
They slipped to 48-30, one-half game behind Golden State. But the Mavericks remain a game ahead of Utah in the loss column in the chase for the fourth seed, and the home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs that comes with it.
It was a rough night all around, starting with Jason Kidd’s first ejection as coach of the Mavericks. He picked up a couple of technical fouls with 8:47 left and the deficit climbing to hopeless proportions.
“I asked about the delay of game when one of the players was getting undressed,” Kidd said. “We have a gray area of, like, we can do that, we can’t do that. It just goes with different crews. And that crew just didn’t see it.
“So I asked about that. And Tony (Brothers, lead referee), he’s thrown me out as a player, and now he’s thrown me out as a coach. What I said to him is: who’s ball is it? Right? And he took that personal, unfortunately, and threw me out. It happens. I can’t believe I got the second T. We’ll see what the league says.”
But the technical fouls weren’t the most critical problem for Kidd, who watched the Mavericks surrender 41 points in the first quarter and, for the second game in a row, 67 by halftime. Unlike Cleveland, they couldn’t recover this time.
Washington shot 54.4 percent from the field and 51.5 percent from 3-point land.
“We have to get back to the details of our defense,” Kidd said. “That’s what we’re built on and that group in there understands that. And that’s what we’ll do tomorrow (at Saturday’s practice). We’ll watch video of our last couple games because we’re giving up too many points in the first half, believing that we can fight out of it, which we have in the past.
“We just have to pay attention to detail and understand that sometimes when you clinch (a playoff berth), there’s a time to relax and I think we relaxed. We didn’t play very well. Defensively we got to get back to the way things were before the break. And we’ve talked about the slippage. It just caught up to us tonight.”
It took very little prompting to get Luka Dončić to echo Kidd’s displeasure with the defense.
“Our defense was terrible, and that’s from the first quarter,” he said. “The whole game, just terrible. I don’t know what it was. Our defense wasn’t there today and that was the game.
Everything’s a little bit too easy. We’re not playing aggressively, not playing with energy, especially on the defensive end. It’s better that it happens before the playoffs than in the playoffs.”
That much is for sure, and Luka added that he has “No concern at all. I know how we can play. We just got to watch the film and go from there.”
But give the Wizards some credit. They were officially eliminated from the play-in tournament on Thursday, but didn’t play like it. They rolled up an insurmountable lead in the third quarter, had it cut in half, but then the Mavericks went flat and eventually fell behind by 34 points in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards won both meetings with the Mavericks this season, having won in Dallas 120-114 on Nov. 27.
Back then, Porzingis still was with the Mavericks. He was doing his usual Unicorn tricks on Friday and got a lot of help from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had a season-best 35 points.
The Mavericks were led by Dončić with 36 points, seven rebounds and six assists. They will limp to Milwaukee for Sunday’s nationally televised meeting with the defending champion Bucks.
There were lots of hugs and smiles while greeting Porzingis before and after the game. But there wasn’t much else to be happy about for the Mavericks.
Dinwiddie was making his return to Washington, where he was only a Wizard for half of a season. He made his first appearance late in the first quarter. Bertāns entered shortly thereafter.
The Wizards played a short tribute video for both players on their jumbo video screen. Dinwiddie downplayed the Mavericks’ clunker, but credited his former team for their effort.
“For them, it’s probably a bigger focus because they’re not playing for anything anymore,” Dinwiddie said. “If you can get up for a game and really put a bull’s-eye on it and say: this is a game we are going to win so we can feel good about ourselves, of course.”
It was clear from the start that Porzingis would have the bigger impact in this game.
“He’s playing great basketball,” Dončić said. “I know they were eliminated from the playoffs. But they should be excited for next year.”
Said Porzingis: “I’m happy I’m here. But still, it’s fun to play against your former team no matter the circumstances, especially a team that has so much talent.”
If there was one regret, he said it was the misperception that he and Luka did not have a good relationship.
“There is no issue between us,” Porzingis said. “We were super cool and would hang out. Luka’s a cool dude. He’s super chill. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way everybody expects.
“We had a lot of good moments. It didn’t go the way everybody expected and sometimes it happens that way in life. Everybody treated me super well. It’s just a part of business.”
Then, he added that if there was something he misses, it’s “the people and Dallas weather.”
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