“I think we can play with anybody,” the Mavs’ two-time All-Star point guard said. “When we play together, we play good.”
And the Mavs were exceptionally good against both the Warriors and Bulls.
The Warriors came to American Airlines Center last Wednesday packing the best record in the NBA. They left town carrying a 99-82 defeat in their luggage, and the 82 points were the fewest the Warriors have scored in a game this season.
Four days later, the Bulls came to AAC carrying the best record in the Eastern Conference, and also owning an impressive nine-game winning streak. By the time the Bulls left Dallas, they were looking to start a new winning streak as they suffered a 113-99 defeat at the hands of the Mavs.
In short, the Mavs have proven they can play — and beat — the big boys, despite not getting much attention from the national media.
“I think the togetherness combined with the effort has been really, really strong here as of late,” acting head coach Sean Sweeney said. “The other thing that we’re doing a really good job of is understanding what the plan is.
“And then if there isn’t something that we prepared for, (we’re) covering for each other when it’s needed. I think the guys are doing a really good job of that, and then they do a great job of communicating with what they’re seeing on the floor to help us as coaches as we go on in the game. Those are the things that are really standing out with these guys.”
What’s also standing out is the Mavs are making a steady climb of the Western Conference standings. They’re now 22-18 overall and fifth out West going into Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. road game against the New York Knicks (20-21).
“It is a little bit of everything,” guard Jalen Brunson said. “Like I said, the coaching staff has put us in a position to be successful.
“Guys have really just bought in. It has been a fun thing to be a part of.”
What’s been equally impressive is the Mavs have been winning lately without their second-best player, Kristaps Porzingis. The 7-3 forward has missed the last five games, including the past four while in the health and safety protocols.
“Obviously, we are still missing KP,” said forward Maxi Kleber, who scored a season-high 18 points on a career-high tying six three-pointers during the win over the Bulls. “He is a big part of our team, but finally we have had time to play together. Everybody is kind of back.
“We still haven’t really practiced much, but this is who we can be and this is what we have to work on. I think the last couple of games really showed that we made a big improvement defensively, but we have to keep going because even when our shot is not falling we are still good on defense.”
Second-year forward Josh Green has given the Mavs a proverbial burst of energy off the bench. He scored a career-high 17 points in the 130-106 victory at Houston last Friday, then did that one better against the Bulls when he scored a career-high 18 points on 8-of-10 shots.
From his vantage point, Green explained that the key to his success is just staying prepared.
“I think my whole mentality is just when my name is called, make sure I am ready to go and bring to the team what they need,” he said. “I feel like I was able to find a groove and I’m trying to build off that and just continue to grow as a player.”
And as Green grows as a player, the Mavs are collectively growing as a team. And that’s been a steady process under Kidd, who is his first year as the team’s coach.
“It has been an every day one-step-at-a-time mentality,” Brunson said. “We are approaching every game the same — like it is the last and like it really means something.
“Our chemistry on the court is a lot better. The coaches are setting us up to be successful and we are executing the game plan.”
It all has added up to seven wins for the Mavs in their last eight games, not to mention a ton of confidence that’s come with that type of success.
“We have guys that sacrifice a lot on the defensive end, but importantly we play team defense,” Doncic said. “Everybody is important, all five players on the court.
Brunson anticipates the good times to keep on rolling for the Mavs when they play the Knicks in the Big Apple,
“I don’t think that we are going to let this slip any time soon,” he said. “We just have to keep going, keep having fun and just keep focusing on defense.
“As long as we focus on the defense and the little things, the offense will be there for us. We have a lot of guys that can score a lot at any time. So as long as we are focused on the defensive side of the ball we will be in good shape.”