Recently, the Mavericks have inched closer to playoff mode, particularly when it comes to how opponents play Luka Dončić.

“They’re going to try to take away your best player in the playoffs,” coach Jason Kidd said recently.

While that may be an unwinnable challenge for defenses, it’s been clear lately that the Mavericks have adjusted to different looks that opponents are throwing at Luka.

He’s still going to get his. That much is obvious.

But the play of other players recently has proven that the Mavericks are prepared for times when opponents lock in on getting the ball out of Dončić’s hands.

Last week in Cleveland, it was Dorian Finney-Smith who let loose for a career-best 28 points.

Before that, Reggie Bullock had a hot-shooting game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

On Sunday afternoon, as the Mavericks knocked off Milwaukee, it was Dwight Powell going off as the Bucks’ defense zeroed in on Luka.

Powell had 22 points and a season-best 13 rebounds. Many of his points came off of the pick-and-roll with Dončić because the Bucks were overplaying to take away the corner 3-pointers that have been such a strong weapon for the Mavericks.

“If you’re going to have six guys in double figures, that puts you in a great position to win games,” Kidd said after Sunday’s win. “You try to take something away and that opens up something else. They were trying to take the corner 3 away from us. And I thought DP was great. Luka decided to feed DP and DP responded.

“When they started to take DP away, that opened up the opportunity for the corner 3 or the layup (for Luka) and I thought he did a great job of reading the situation. And the guys stayed patient. Communication at both ends was high and that’s what we’re going to need going forward.”

And going through it a few hundred times doesn’t hurt, either.

The repetition of recognizing what opponents are doing is working wonders for Powell and his teammates as they feed off of Dončić.

Powell said that “you could write a book” just from the way Luka reads defenses.

“Understanding where the defense’s weaknesses are (is important),” Powell said. “Understanding the flow of the game and how defenses slowly adjust to different things and how he tries to stay one step ahead of that. He’s a special player. Defenses have to do a whole bunch of different things to try to take him out of his game.”

And, as the playoffs near, Luka and the Mavericks have learned how to deal with a lot of wrinkles that the defense may have in store for them.

Free for the taking: It’s becoming clear that one of the Mavericks’ best allies is their free-throw shooting.

Dončić missed the first two that they tried on Sunday. The Mavericks then hit 24 of their last 25 tries from the stripe, including 23 in a row before Luka split a pair with 15 seconds left and the game in hand.

In their last 11 games, the Mavericks have hit 80 percent or more from the line six times and are hitting 81.9 percent in that stretch.

That’s a big uptick from their 76.9 percent success rate for the season, which is a lukewarm 17th in the league.

“It’s just a credit to everyone’s work ethic,” said Jalen Brunson, who hit both of his free throws Sunday and has made 43 of his last 46 in the past month. “It’s just concentration, having confidence in everyone to step up there and make their free throws. You can’t really overthink it. Just keep making sure we’re trusting our mechanics.”

Hair-grazing: Dončić was on the receiving end of a rather bizarre foul in the fourth quarter when Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday flew at him on a 3-point shot and grazed the right side of Luka’s head.

It looked kind of like a hair-only foul.

“He tried to do the two lines on the other side,” said Dončić, referring to the hair style he has on the left side of his head. “Jrue told me after the game: you’re welcome for the haircut. But he got me a little bit. I think that’s a foul.”

The referees agreed and though the Bucks challenged the call, it stood up after the video review.

For Powell, 79 down, 3 to go: Powell is one of a handful of players in the NBA that have a chance to play all 82 games this season.

If the Mavericks clinch their playoff spot, he understands that getting rest might be the unselfish and smart thing to do. But being available is something the veteran takes great pride in.

“Being able to be there for my guys and compete is definitely something that was on my mind at the beginning of the year,” he said. “You want to be there for your guys and play as many games as possible.”

The Mavericks returned home from Milwaukee after Sunday afternoon’s game. They will rest Monday, then practice at home Tuesday before going to Detroit for the final road game of the season.

As for whether he will try to play all 82, Powell said: “Hopefully we take care of business but at the end of the day, I love competing and being out there with my guys.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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