Here are my 5 takeaways from the Dallas Mavericks’ 104-94 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center:
1. KLEBER MAKES STATEMENT: The best way to perhaps receive more playing time is to put up some season-high numbers when you received more playing time. That’s precisely what Maxi Kleber did against the Suns. Kleber finished the game with season highs in points (13) and rebounds (nine), and also collected a game-tying two blocked shots. Kleber made his fourth start of the season – the lineup got shuffled when Dennis Smith Jr. sat out with tightness in his back – and the Mavs are now 3-1 in games when he’s in the starting lineup. Oh yeah, Kleber played a season-high 34 minutes against Phoenix.
2. PARADE TO THE FREE THROW LINE: Attack, attack, attack! That apparently was the Mavs’ mantra on Wednesday as they kept attacking the basket and were rewarded with a plethora of free throws. In all, the Mavs attempted 45 free throws. That’s a new season high for one game for the Mavs. At least two Mavs players had the rare opportunity of attempting double-digit free throws in the same game. Harrison Barnes was 10-of-10 from the line and Luka Doncic was 10-of-16. If the Mavs could have converted more of those charity tosses this 10-point victory would have easily been a 20-point victory. The Mavs missed 13 free throws Wednesday.
3. MIDWAY POINT OF THE SEASON: Wednesday’s game marked the midway point of the season for the Mavs. While the 19-22 record indicates the Mavs are on pace to win 38 games this season, they certainly are hoping to defy those numbers and get into the 40-plus win category so they can improve their odds of qualifying for the playoffs. The Mavs know they let too many games get away, and they don’t want those costing them when the playoffs roll around. The Mavs have lost seven games this season by six points or less, including a five-pointer in overtime at San Antonio and a three-pointer in overtime at Portland.
4. LUKA GETS REVENGE ON FORMER COACH: It took him three tries, but rookie Luka Doncic finally won an NBA game against his former coach. Suns coach Igor Kokoskov was Doncic’s coach when the pair were with the Slovenian national team at EuroBasket in 2017. Slovenia went 9-0 and won its first gold medal that year. Doncic finished Wednesday’s game with a game-high 30 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. He also was 8-of-14 from the field and 4-of-9 from 3-point territory. The Suns had beaten the Mavs twice earlier this season, but Doncic and the Mavs were finally able to exact revenge.
5. BATTLE OF THE ROOKIES: There’s no better time than to see how the two most coveted rookies in the NBA are doing this season than to see them on the same court at the same time. That happened Wednesday when the Mavs’ Luka Doncic and the Suns’ Deandre Ayton went toe-to-toe. The results: A TKO by Doncic. Ayton, the top overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, spent most of the night battling foul problems and finished with just ix points and five rebounds. Doncic, the third overall pick in the draft, collected 30 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.