As Luka Doncic continues to create history and join some of the most iconic figures to ever play in the NBA, there’s one player’s name who he keeps hearing over and over and over again.
“I always hear Wilt Chamberlain,” Doncic said. “He’s always there.”
For historical purposes, after he scored 33 points and distributed 11 assists to help the Mavs climb out of a 15-point hole and defeat the stubborn Utah Jazz, 103-100, on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center, Doncic heard Chamberlain’s name once again. That’s because Doncic has now scored at least 30 points in the first seven games this season. The last player to open the season with seven consecutive 30-plus scoring games was:
And that was back in 1962 when the average retail price for gas was only 31 cents a gallon.
On Wednesday, Doncic provided the fuel the Mavs used to stretch their won-loss record to 4-3. He stepped on the gas and drove the Mavs across the winner’s circle, and backseat drivers Christian Wood (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Spencer Dinwiddie (20 points, five assists, four steals) stepped up and offered some much-needed support.
“I think it’s special when you talk about MJ (Michael Jordan) and Wilt,” coach Jason Kidd said. “That’s rare air. We get to see that on a nightly basis, so that’s pretty cool. A 23-year old kid that is playing at this level is really, really kind of special and cool to see.
“He can do it in so many ways when you talk about posting up or getting to the basket or shooting the three or shooting the little step-back. It’s really cool to watch and it just shows the focus that he has right now. He’s carrying the team and putting the team in a position to win.”
By no means was this an easy path to victory for the Mavs, who host Toronto on Friday. They trailed, 64-49, with 8:21 remaining in the third quarter before scratching and pinching and clawing their way back into this thing.
And when the ball swung around the perimeter – seemingly forever — and nestled into the hands of Reggie Bullock, the 10-year veteran forward calmly drilled a three-pointer with the shot clock about to expire that put the Mavs happily ahead, 103-98, with just 35.5 seconds left. It was, by the way, the only points Bullock scored Wednesday, but they were extremely critical and were enough to send the Jazz away with a 6-3 record.
“It was big,” Kidd said. “Luka getting doubled and the swing, swing and getting the wide open three and he makes it and we kind of take control of the game.
“It shows just the trust that his teammates and coaches and everyone has in Reggie. We can say Reggie is not shooting the ball well right now, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not capable.”
Following a basket by Collin Sexton with 29.5 seconds left to get the Jazz within three points of the Mavs, Utah had one last hope to try and send the game into overtime. But a three-pointer by Jordan Clarkson (22 points, eight assists) at the buzzer never got close to the basket.
It ended a long and sometimes frustrating night where the Mavs fell behind, 35-23, after the first quarter and then resorted to using a zone defense to slow down the Jazz.
“Since we can’t guard man-to-man right now, we’re going to try everything,” Kidd said. “So we looked at the zone and the zone helped us stay in the game.
“We’re struggling at times guarding, especially in that first quarter. So after the jump ball (Friday) we might start in the zone against Toronto.”
Meanwhile, it wasn’t just Doncic’s historic night that tilted the scales in the Mavs’ favor. It also was the heads-up play of Wood and Dinwiddie, and gritty performances from Dwight Powell and Josh Green, who got down and dirty and helped will the Mavs to victory.
Powell, who lost his starting job at center to JaVale McGee this season, finished with nine points and five boards in only 19 minutes and also finished with a game-high plus/minus of plus 25.
“It’s an extreme credit to his character,” Dinwiddie said. “It is the hardest role to have in this league to know that you can play, to have started and had success, and to be relegated to the bench and not playing at all, (you have to) stay ready and stay focused, and then when they call your number to have extreme success, whether it’s stat sheet or not.
“In a lot of ways he’s like that great left (tackle) for a football team where Tom Brady is getting all the accolades and endorsements, but if that dude isn’t protecting his blind side – and he isn’t doing it every single time – Tom Brady is getting his head knocked off. So, DP is the ultimate pro. I have the utmost respect for him and I hope every single Mavs fan listens to this monologue and has a different respect level for DP.”
With that respect level intact, Powell just wanted to make sure he did his part to help get the Mavs back in the game.
“You just got to stay ready, regardless,” said Powell, who was 4-of-5 from the field. “At the end of the day this league’s about winning games, so we’re going to try whatever we can to achieve that goal.
“It’s going to be different situations that you’re going to have to play different roles, so you have to be prepared every night, every day we practice, every off day to do the best you can to be prepared for whatever the situation may be that’s coming your way.”
That same message holds true for Green, who buried a three-pointer to put the Mavs up, 86-84, with 7:48 remaining in the game. It was the Mavs’ first lead since they held a 13-11 edge early in the first quarter.
Later on, Dinwiddie knocked down consecutive three-pointers, Doncic fed Wood for a basket inside the paint, and then scored on back-to-back baskets as the Mavs forged ahead, 98-92 with 2:57 left.
“I think today was one of the best games I’ve played,” said Doncic, who was 12-of-20 from the field. “I was not forcing a lot. I was sharing the ball.
“The way we handled the ball was very good, because Utah is a great team and they’re playing amazing right now.”
Doncic himself is playing amazing right now. That’s why his name keeps coming up in the same conversation with Wilt Chamberlain, who, along with Jack Tyman, also scored 30-plus points to start the 1959 season.
No player has accomplished the feat in eight consecutive games to start a season, which is an indelible mark Doncic will be chasing against Toronto.
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