DETROIT. Every team in the Western Conference feels they are one big step away from breaking away from the crap and establishing themselves as a force.
Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks exemplifies this better than anyone else. On Monday, they appeared to have confirmed their entry to the conference finals in a Game 7-like beating of the hot Phoenix Suns.
In the days before, they had struggled to muster the necessary energy to take on a hungry Detroit Pistons team – having fallen in overtime in the game, they looked like Luca and the Donettes when they fell to 1-8 on the road.
Which one is the real Mavericks?
Well, it’s both, and that’s the problem.
Reaching the Conference Finals in head coach Jason Kidd’s first season raised expectations for which this roster was not yet ready. They seemed to be ahead of schedule by a couple of years.
But if they’re not careful, Doncic won’t be anywhere near his best because he’ll be exhausted carrying this team.
Even Kidd, who placed a lot of responsibility on Doncic, as he did with Giannis Antetokounmpo years ago, knows that this is unreliable.
“For 82 games, there’s no way he can play at this level, the usage is too high,” Kidd told Sportzshala Sports last week. “No one can. You know, what we ask him to do on offense ends and then ask him to defend on the other end. That’s a lot.”
On Monday, Doncic missed the fourth quarter because the Mavericks had such a comfortable lead over Phoenix — he had already done the damage that the Suns felt was deja vu with 33 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 29. minutes.
But even so, Doncic controls so many things, even when he succeeds, it feels exhausting. Doncic does not lead the league in utilization rate; that title is temporarily held by Antetokounmpo, who had to carry more workload in Milwaukee while Chris Middleton was out after wrist surgery to start the season.
Antetokumbō can slow down if necessary, and he plays around 33 minutes per game. In addition, he is a physical freak, able to strike as easily as he can take them.
Doncic, however, is not. Adonis. His raw stats (league-leading 33.4 points, plus 8.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds) and advanced numbers support his MVP candidacy, but he also plays 37 minutes a night and comes on the line almost 11 times per game.
Sounds like James Harden’s Houston territory, and these movies always ended earlier than expected.
Dallas is ranked last in both fast break points as well as dots in paint, according to NBA.com. The former is more of a concern, given that Doncic can be strolling around the court when he doesn’t have the ball and his teammates are waiting for him to join the party.
“Consistency is an important thing that we fight for, we have guys who are starting to play well,” Kidd admitted.
Nobody gets anything easy and Doncic hasn’t figured out how to be efficient off the ball to make life less stressful for his teammates. Fatigue certainly has to play a role, but it’s hard to say how he would have handled a game with another player dominating the ball.
“We need to get their help and we need to see how we can do that,” Kidd told Sportzshala Sports. “His minutes are extremely high. you try to keep him [on the bench] but often you have to return it early, just to get back in the game.”
This is a dilemma for Kidd and general manager Nico Harrison. Tonight, who will be producing besides Doncic? Tim Hardaway Jr. has begun to bounce back from a slow start after recovering from a foot injury. Since the Mavs’ thrilling victory over Golden State a week ago, he has looked like a consistent helper, averaging 23.3 points on 51.1% shooting on 11.8 3-point attempts (!) – a result of the attention Doncic is getting. .
Christian Wood was brought in through a trade but his playing time was erratic, although his performance was as expected. One thing about Kidd, defense will always be a priority, especially for his big players with constant trapping, hedging and covering 47 feet of half court.
Wood seems to have struggled with this.
“I think you have to be able to balance that out,” Kidd said when asked about the concerns of defenders who provide offense. “And, you know, sometimes you just try to make it easier. We run everything to keep things simple.
“Sometimes the small is put on the big and then there’s the roll, that’s where it’s about masculinity and trying to fight the small fights the big, but it’s tough in this league.”
They play aggressively defensively, making up for their lack of size with overall toughness, which sees them hovering in the top five in defensive effectiveness for another season.
Would they like Zach LaVine to be in Chicago? Sure, but a handful of other teams would have done the same. The Bulls have given no indication that they are ready to tear him to the ground, and LaVine is in the first year of a five-year contract worth more than $215 million.
But LaVine represents someone from the Mavs timeline, and his playstyle will theoretically give them what they lack: someone who can fly in the open and also be a good enough shooter to play against Doncic as well. be the best beat maker.
It’s not that the Mavs are far away; there are no top eight, but they embody the frustrating nature of this start to the season more than anyone else.
However, they still have hope.