Final: Mavs 122, 76ers 102
I’m not sure what’s gotten into the Mavericks lately, but they’ve now claimed wins against the Warriors, Thunder, and now Sixers in the last week and a half, and without Luka Doncic in the last two games. (As Dirk would joke, “Luka out? Mavs roll!”) These last two wins — at Oklahoma City and then at home against Philadelphia the next night — have been two of the most impressive of the season because, in light of Doncic’s absence, the “other guys” on the team have continued to step up. We’ve already said plenty about Jalen Brunson, and he was very good again tonight, but the hero in this game was Justin Jackson, who erupted for 16 points in the third quarter en route to a team-high 24, the second highest-scoring game of his career.
Jackson is working to improve his 3-point shot, but he’s already got a great floater game around the rim and has become more consistent as his playing time has increased in recent weeks since joining the Mavericks. He scored 40 points in a two-game span on March 20 and 21, and he had 14 points on 10 shots the other night in Miami, too. The second-year pro still has plenty of room to grow but is already a solid and versatile offensive player, and defensively he has the flexibility to defend multiple positions on the wing. He’s an intriguing prospect moving forward to be sure, especially considering he was a key piece to North Carolina’s national championship-winning squad before being drafted just outside the lottery in 2017. His shot, by the way, was very smooth tonight, as he connected on half of his six attempts from deep.
Salah Mejri was unleashed in this game, and put on such a strong performance that afterward Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle joked that he himself is the only person capable of stopping the Tunisian Tower. Mejri finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds — both season-high marks — to go along with two blocks and three assists in 24 minutes of work. He also hit a pair of 3-pointers.
Ever since the Mavs turned over the roster around the trade deadline, there have been plenty of minutes up for grabs in the big man rotation. Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber have both been playing very well, and Dirk Nowitzki is obviously going to receive playing time as well, but Mejri is making the most of the opportunities he receives. More performances like this will surely only increase his minutes moving forward.
These last games of the season are an audition, of sorts, for rotation players like Mejri, Jackson, Ryan Broekhoff, Trey Burke, and so on. These are all players who are good enough to be in the league, but the question they are each trying to answer is are they good enough to receive consistent minutes on a team contending for a playoff spot, as the Mavs hope to be doing next year. So far, the answer is a pretty strong yes, as each of them has contributed in big ways to three recent wins against teams aiming for the title.
Dallas limited Philly to just 102 points in this game, the second-fewest the Sixers have scored in a game in the calendar year 2019. Yes, they were playing without Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler, but they still had two All-Star-caliber players available in Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, and J.J. Redick is one of the best shooters in the NBA. The Mavericks are finally beginning to click defensively after making significant roster changes at the midway point of the season, which is not always an easy thing to do. To paint a clearer picture of just how better they’ve become, here’s a quick timeline: Over the last 15 games, they rank 24th in the league in defensive rating, or points allowed per 100 possessions. Over the last 10, however, they rank 16th, right at league-average. And in the last five, they rank seventh in the league. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.
Tonight, the big challenge was containing Simmons in transition. The Sixers scored a whopping 17 fast break points in the first quarter alone, but Dallas then limited the opponent to just a single point on the break in the second quarter, which helped the home team build an 18-point halftime lead.
One streak sadly came to an end tonight. The Mavs had made at least 15 3-pointers in four straight games, a team record. The all-time record is six straight, meaning they had a decent chance of making some history. But alas, tonight, Dallas hit just 12 of them. On the bright side, the Mavericks handed out 29 assists against just six turnovers, good for nearly a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. According to Basketball-Reference, this was just the eighth time since at least the beginning of the 1983-84 season that the Mavs have dropped that many dimes while giving it away six times or less. And again, this was done without Doncic, with the keys to the offense firmly in the hands of a second-round rookie point guard and a backup who’s on his fourth team in as many seasons, in Brunson and Burke, respectively. They might have unassuming resumes, but there’s nothing quiet about the way they’ve played lately.
The Mavs (31-46) will play Minnesota at home on Wednesday. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.