Final: Mavs 118, Jazz 68
In a game like this, where do you even begin? I have no idea, so let’s start at the end. This was the third 50-point win in Mavericks history, and the 68 points they allowed are the fewest by any team this season and fewest by any Mavs opponent since 2012. Dallas has now kept opponents below 100 three games in a row, the club’s longest streak since the 2016-17 season, and opponents have shot below 40 percent for a franchise record-tying three straight games. Nearly everything that could go right did go right in this game for the Mavericks, and generally speaking the defense has come an extremely long way in a very short period of time. How far? One week ago today Dallas ranked 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions. The Mavs now rank ninth.
There were some very loud highlights in this game, including an impossible Luka Doncic 3-pointer right before halftime, but maybe the most impressive play by any Maverick was this pass by Dennis Smith Jr., who was completely blinded by defenders but still found Harrison Barnes in the corner.
Mark Followill asked it best: How did he find him in the corner? Smith was aggressive in this game, but didn’t just go blazing into the paint every time down the floor, either. He changed speeds, drove looking to pass, and took whatever shots were there. Smith scored just seven points on nine shots but this was not a bad game for him by any stretch, as strange as it might seem. He kept his foot to the floor, consistently spread the ball around the floor, and played in-your-face defense on Ricky Rubio, which really went in a long way in knocking the Jazz out of rhythm in the first half. Smith even wound up on the floor once or twice and was a one-man fast break a few times, too. There’s sometimes a difference between playing fast and playing hard. Tonight, Smith played hard 100 percent of the time, and he played fast when he needed to. That’s a good mix.
Dwight Powell was a team-best +34 tonight in 26 minutes. He finished with 13 points, five rebounds, and four assist, one off his career-high. Maxi Kleber scored just four points but was a +31. Dorian Finney-Smith was +23 and sank all three of his 3-point attempts. The bench has been remarkable with Devin Harris healthy; lineups including both Barea and Harris are +36 this season in just 46 minutes, per NBA Stats. The Mavs’ best duo, Powell and Kleber, are +73 when playing together. In fact, the Mavs’ top-22 two-man combinations include either Barea, Harris, Kleber, Powell, Harris, or Jalen Brunson. Tonight, by the time the second unit took the floor, Dallas was up two. When the bench is this consistently positive and has the luxury of playing from ahead instead of from behind, the team is going to be in good shape. That doesn’t mean ’50-point win good shape,’ but it at least means that your odds of entering halftime with a lead are strong. And, as it happens, since Harris’s return the Mavs have led by at least seven points at halftime in all three games. Overall, they’ve led at the break in fix of their last six games, after trailing or being tied in seven of their first eight. Winning games is a whole lot easier when you don’t have to come back in order to win them.
The Mavericks improved to 12-2 all-time on Seats for Soldiers Night and have now won 10 of their last 11 such games. This was obviously the largest final margin of victory, but Dallas has now won six of the last seven Seats for Soldiers games by double-digits. It’s always one of the best atmospheres of the season; the building is absolutely electric and the players and coaches will tell you that seeing hundreds of soldiers in the front row gives them an extra burst of energy throughout the game. If you’ve never been to one of these, you need to come. It benefits an extraordinary group of people, but everyone in the building has a ton of fun — especially this soldier, who dunked home a winning shot in a game during a quarter break and was picked up by Mavs players afterward.
The Mavs (6-8) take on the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.