The most fun part of an NBA player’s job comes when the playoffs arrive and the the stakes rise.
Interest goes up. Whistles go down (although they haven’t in the NBA bubble). It’s hard-nosed basketball and superstars invariably are made in the postseason.
So what’s all the fuss about Luka Dončić making his first NBA playoff appearance?
Rick Carlisle doesn’t get it.
“He’s wired for big moments,” the Mavericks’ coach said. “He’ll be fine.”
It’s common knowledge that Dončić has played on the biggest of stages in Europe, won championships and MVPs there. The nerves get jangled just as much there as they do in the NBA postseason.
“He’s got a lot of experience in high-level pressure games internationally,” Carlisle said. “We’ve had a lot of them here too. We’ve played three overtime games (out of seven in the bubble).
“I’m not worried about any kind of inexperience from his standpoint. I do think there is a carryover between playing in huge games internationally, whether it’s Eurobasket in 2017 or whether it’s the Euro League Championship in 2018. All of that stuff is meaningful, and he’s got two years under his belt.
“I know that he’s going to be ready to play.”
Through nearly two full seasons, that’s always been the case for the Slovenian point guard.
Dončić has such a youthful exuberance, not to mention a surplus of confidence, that he seems unfazed by the thought of playoff pressure.
As he recently said: “We got a lot to learn. We’ll get better, for sure. I know we’re going to get it together when it matters most in the playoffs. So I’m not worried about that.”
Finale should be fun: The NBA’s regular season comes to an end for the Mavericks Thursday afternoon.
It will do so with two very clear goals in mind for them in their finale against Phoenix.
And don’t get hurt.
The Mavericks are locked into the No. 7 seed. And they may or may not know their first-round playoff opponent after the LA Clippers-Denver game Wednesday night.
The final seeding game will be a lot more critical to the Suns than it will be for the Mavericks. Phoenix is trying to go 8-0 in the NBA bubble and they have been the talk of the restart.
And yet, with a loss, they will not qualify for the No. 8 vs. No. 9 play-in match.
The Mavericks can definitely play spoiler, but for the second game in a row they will be playing against one the best scorers in the NBA bubble, the Suns’ Devin Booker.
Having been burned by 61 points from Damian Lillard on Tuesday, the Mavericks will have to brace for a silver-bullet effort from Booker, who already burned the Mavericks for 30 points in the Suns 117-115 victory on Aug. 2.
Looking back at Dame: The Mavericks did not play poorly against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
They just ran into a scorching hot performance from Damian Lillard, who had 61 points, including a completely lucky 3-pointer with 1:08 to play and a defensive stop when he took a charge from Trey Burke in the final seconds.
There was some talk after the game about whether the foul was legitimate. But the whistle blew, so Dorian Finney-Smith’s 3-pointer that splashed in was not allowed.
“Great players in the moment, they know how to create that situation,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Hey, if it’s a flop, maybe he’ll get fined. But it doesn’t help us in the context of the game. There were so many good elements to that play, it was unfortunate for us.”
Remember when: This NBA season is going to be a full year old before it’s over, if you go back to when training camps started in September, 2019.
During that run-up to the start of the season, Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban was asked about his thoughts on the Western Conference.
“I still think it’s wide-open,” Cuban said before the regular season began. “Utah got better. Denver is still good.
“But you got to be healthy. If our young guys continue to improve . . . Luka will be better and we’re adding KP. If we would have just signed KP as a restricted free agent from the Knicks this summer, everybody would have been talking about: ‘You guys did great. You got one of the big names.’ We did that during the season. And I think we got a lot of really good players that will get better. It’s still a team game.”
All seems pretty cogent almost a year later.