When the playoff seedings are distributed less than three months from today, the Dallas Mavericks hope what transpired Sunday night at the Amway Center won’t wind up costing them a higher seed.
Despite a triple-double from Luka Doncic, the Mavs couldn’t make a key basket or produce a critical defensive stop during crucial portions of the game against Orlando. The results was a stunning 110-108 loss to the Magic, who own the NBA’s worst record.
It was one of those on-any-given-night games for the Mavs, who had been riding high with one of the league’s most impressive records in January at 12-3 entering Sunday’s donnybrook. But that mattered not to the pesky Magic, who are 11-40 and have now won three of their last four games after scoring a whopping 41 points in the second quarter.
“I think we just kind of had a slow second quarter,” said center Marquese Chriss, who finished with 14 points and four steals. “We came out after halftime with better energy and I think we kind of waited too long to turn it back on.
“And it just shows. It’s an NBA team and they’re going out there to compete and win. And anybody can lose.”
On the cusp of moving past Utah and into fourth place in the Western Conference standings, the Mavs lost for the third time in their last six games and are 29-22 on the season. The Mavs will try to right the ship when they start a season-high six-game home stand Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Actually, the Mavs had an opportunity to overcome Orlando’s 51.2 percent shooting from the field and sneak out with a victory. After the Magic triple-teamed Doncic in the waning seconds and forced the ball out of his hands, he passed it to Reggie Bullock who swung it to Maxi Kleber for a wide-open three-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left.
Unfortunately, Kleber misfired and Bullock didn’t have ample time to get his feet set on a rushed offensive rebound 11-footer at the buzzer.
“They took the ball out of Luka’s hands and he made all the right plays,” coach Jason Kidd said. “The guys were wide open. We just have to be able to make shots, and that’s just a lesson learned.
“As we get going forward here, someone else is going to have to make a shot for us because they’re going to take the ball out of Luka’s hands. And this was a perfect example of that, and we’ll learn from this and we’ll move forward and get better.”
After the Mavs went up, 106-102, with 5:16 remaining following a three-pointer by Bullock, they never made another field goal and misfired on eight consecutive three-pointers, including four by Kleber and one each from Dorian Finney-Smith, Doncic, Bullock and Chriss. Many were wide-open looks.
And because the Magic smothered Doncic on that final offensive sequence, Kidd had no problem with his superstar point guard surveying the situation and passing the ball to Bullock, who flicked it to Kleber.
“That’s what champions do and that’s what leaders do,” Kidd said. “They trust that their teammates are going to make the right play and knock down a shot, and when that happens it’s just going to make the game so much easier for him.
“He’s the quarterback and he gave up the ball. Again, he made the right plays down the stretch and unfortunately we weren’t able to make one of those eight threes.”
Before missing those final eight three-pointers, the Mavs were a solid 16-of-30 from downtown.
Doncic registered his seventh triple-double of the season (34 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) and the 43rd of his career, which ties him with Fat Lever for 10th on the NBA’s all-time list. But after leading, 34-23, at the end of the first quarter, the Mavs were outscored, 41-25, in the second quarter and that lapse in making a more commendable defensive stance wound up costing them.
“Obviously they’re an NBA team, they have young guys, they have a lot of talent, they play hard and they showed that today,” Doncic said. “But we shouldn’t give up 41 points in one quarter.”
The Mavs also know they shouldn’t turn the ball over 18 times. But that’s exactly what they did, and that led to 26 points for the opportunistic Magic, who got 19 points from Chuma Okeke, 18 points from Franz Wagner and 16 from Cole Anthony.
“There’s no excuse,” said Kidd, whose team was playing on the second night of a back-to-back and were also without the injured Kristaps Porzingis. “We don’t talk about excuses. You give credit to Orlando.
“They got their hands on the ball, made some deflections or steals. And for us we had been doing a good job of taking care of the ball. We just didn’t do that this evening.”
Kidd did talk about a crucial play in the game. With the Mavs down, 109-108, Wagner missed a 10-footer and Kleber grabbed the defensive rebound with 18.6 seconds left on the end of the court near Kidd, who was trying to get the attention of referee Bennie Adams so he could call a timeout.
However, after Kleber took a couple of dribbles, Jalen Suggs came from his blind side and stole the ball and the Mavs had to intentionally foul Wendell Carter Jr., who split two freebies that put Orlando ahead, 110-108, with 16.8 seconds remaining.
“It’s just an unfortunate play with the (COVID-19) mask,” Kidd said. “Bennie said he didn’t hear me call timeout and that’s unfortunate, because again I thought our defense gave us a chance there.
“We get the stop, then we get the rebound and we had already talked about taking a timeout. Unfortunately, they made a heck of a play. But with all that being said, we get a great look to win the game.”
But that great look by Kleber missed its mark.
“We need to be a little bit safer with the ball and limit our mistakes,” said Josh Green, who contributed 11 points. “But at the end of the day it’s not always going to be perfect.”
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