Final: Mavs 111, Trail Blazers 102
Dallas has now won eight straight at American Airlines Center for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Overall, the Mavericks are now 10-2 at home, which is good to see given that following tomorrow’s back-to-back, four of the team’s next five games are at home, with three coming against teams which didn’t make the playoffs last season. I don’t think the Mavs will go 39-2 in this building this season, but this is a good chance for Dallas to continue racking up home wins before the schedule becomes exceedingly road-heavy from mid-December through early January. The club finds itself in the midst of a stretch of schedule in which 16 of 18 games come against Western Conference opponents, and Dallas is off to a 3-1 start. That’s a very impressive mark against challenging opponents, and in a West where every team is separated by a nose, you’ve got to take these wins where you can get them. Dallas is now seventh in the West, 3.5 games out of first place, and two games ahead of 14th place. Things are changing every day though, so don’t pay too much attention to the standings for now… You’ll go crazy if you do.
I’m convinced that one day Luka Doncic will finish with 40 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists in a game and in the middle of the fourth quarter we’ll be watching the game collectively thinking, “Doesn’t seem like Luka’s having a good game tonight, does it?” He so quietly compiles stats that sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s the team’s scoring leader and is second in both rebounds and assists per game. Doncic had seven points on just 2-of-7 shooting in the first half, but erupted for 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the second half, adding five rebounds and two assists. His final bucket was a back-breaking step-back 3, which is already becoming his signature shot.
Doncic is shooting 38.9 percent on off-the-dribble 3s this season, per NBA Stats, which is ludicrously high for such a young player. Typically even your best shooters will be below 40 on pull-up 3s; James Harden is probably the most fearsome off-the-bounce wing in the league and he’s hit 37.4 percent of his pull-ups. Doncic has already somehow found his way in that stratosphere, at least in that specific facet of his game. As for everything else, despite how far along he seems, he’s still got a lot to improve on. What, exactly? “Everything,” he said before the game. It bears repeating that this is probably the worst he’ll be at basketball for at least the next 10 years. No matter what happens with the rest of this roster, that’s something we can all agree on.
Damian Lillard went ballistic in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, but it should not go unrecognized that Dennis Smith Jr. played terrific defense on Lillard throughout the game. The Blazers superstar began just 3 of 12 from the field before nickel-and-diming his way up to a game-high 33 — if such a thing exists — thanks in large part due to free throws he picked up against players not named Smith. Opponents now have just a 49.8 effective field goal percentage against Smith this season, per Second Spectrum, which is an extraordinarily good number for a point guard, comparing favorably to Jrue Holiday (47.3 percent) and Patrick Beverley (50.7), two of the best defensive guards in the NBA.
Smith is using his athleticism much more liberally on defense, playing fast and aggressive whether he’s defending the ball-handler or helping off another player. He got a few deflections on the first possession of the game, and never really slowed down after that. He finished with 12 points, nine assists, a steal, and a block, which are relatively modest numbers for him, but the stats don’t really do justice to the performance we witnessed in this game. He’s become a fairly strong positive defensively seemingly out of nowhere in the last few weeks, which has become one of the most promising developments any young player has made around here in quite some time.
Maxi Kleber showed tonight why he’d been missed. The second-year big man sat out only the previous two games, but it didn’t take him long to remind us what he’s capable of. He had another big block in transition, but his loudest (and funniest) play of the night was a put-back dunk.
Following the quarter buzzer, DeAndre Jordan greeted Kleber at the sideline with this primal roar.
And who could blame him? Kleber is just that good. He brings that energy out of all of us. It’s science.
The Mavs (12-10) will head to Bourbon Street for a back-to-back with the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.