Final: Mavs 122, Pelicans 119
Dirk Nowitzki forever and ever, amen. The Mavs legend made quite a bit of history tonight, when he became just the sixth player ever to win 900 games in his career. Adding to the significance was that win coming in career game No. 1,477, which moves him out of a tie with Karl Malone and into sole possession of fourth place on the all-time games played list. Next up is John Stockton at 1,504, which gives Nowitzki a solid chance of moving his way into third place, behind only Robert Parish and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He added a modest season-high of seven points on 2-of-6 shooting, adding two blocks. Not known for his rim protection, Nowitzki joked after the game that they were more like strips than they were blocks, “but I’ll take it.” So will we, GOAT. So will we.
Luka Doncic’s late-game free throws to a chorus of “M-V-P” chants were probably the most significant moments of the game, but in my opinion his best run came in the third quarter, when he put on display his entire playmaking arsenal in a matter of just a few minutes. After starting alongside Jalen Brunson for the last several games, who was nominally the point guard, the Mavs swapped out Brunson for Maxi Kleber tonight for matchup reasons and suddenly there was no question — height-related or otherwise — who the real point guard was. His work in the third quarter was some of his best this season.
It’s time to start a dialogue. In Doncic’s last eight games, he’s averaging 22.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.4 assists (against just 2.8 turnovers), 1.3 steals, and 10.1 free throw attempts per game. Very few players ever reach that level statistically. It’s just an eight-game stretch, of course, and in that time his effective field goal percentage is just 49.0 percent, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny his skill level, even this early in his career. The list of rookies all-time to carry Doncic’s current averages — 19 points, six rebounds, five assists — for an entire season is shockingly short (Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Grant Hill), and while these are just counting stats, and stats don’t mean everything, they’re still really, really cool. And that counts for something. So, too, does this stat: Dallas is now 10-8 when Doncic scores at least 20 points. When he’s good, the Mavs are good.
Maxi Kleber joined a fun but relatively obscure group of players tonight, becoming just the ninth Maverick in the last 10 years to block at least six shots in a game. Before we continue, take a moment and try to think of as many of those players as you can.
Here’s the complete list, in order of recency:
Maxi Kleber. Salah Mejri. Al-Farouq Aminu. Sam Dalembert. Bernard “Sarge” James. Chris Kaman. Brandan Wright. Brendan Haywood. Erick Dampier.
That’s a “who’s who” of Mavs centers over the years, with Aminu sprinkled in as well. Kleber is still dealing with the toe injury that’s cost him a couple games this season, but he didn’t play like it was an issue in this game, drawing the start against the Pelicans’ super-sized frontcourt of Anthony Davis and Julius Randle. Those two still combined for a whopping 55 points, but Kleber’s six blocks in a three-point game seem awfully significant.
Opponents are now shooting just 50.6 percent at the rim against Kleber this season, per NBA Stats, which ranks up near the very top of the league, even ahead of defensive titans Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert, although to be fair they face far more attempts per game than Kleber does. Still, that’s not bad company to be in.
One day, we are going to wake up to find that J.J. Barea and Devin Harris are no longer in the NBA. That is going to be an incredibly sad day. Tonight, they combined for 34 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds, made six 3-pointers, and both finished with a positive plus-minus, playing pivotal parts in a long fourth-quarter run to erase a deficit and claim a lead. Those are two of the best Mavericks there have been.
The Mavs (16-17) will next head to New Orleans for the back end of a home-and-home on Friday night against the Pelicans. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.