NBA Daily: Things Looking Up in Dallas

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Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis

After a rocky 9-14 mark start to the season, the Dallas Mavericks have quietly won four of their last five games. Better yet, they’ve scored 118 points or more in each of those games after reaching that mark just five total times prior, an impressive midseason turnaround.

A lot of the recent success comes from the top, with the respective turnarounds of stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis fueling the Dallas Mavericks team roster. This was capitalized on in a huge 143-130 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, a game that saw two of the league’s best young stars in Doncic and Zion Williamson put up career nights. Doncic, specifically, turned in a career-high 46 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 12 assists, splashing in 5-of-8 three-pointers in the win.

“We did switch tonight, we did every possible thing tonight,” said Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy after the game. “[The Mavericks] scored against everything, they hit threes against everything. We switched, we got up on pick and rolls, we dropped on pick and rolls, we played zone, it didn’t matter. Nothing we did made any impact on them whatsoever.”

Doncic has been on a tear recently — in fact, his last five games have arguably been his best of the season. Doncic put up his first 40-point game of the season just three games prior with 42 points and 11 assists while shooting 7-of-12 from deep against the Golden State Warriors. In their most recent contest, he poured in 44 points in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

The week has moved Doncic’s averages up to 29.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.4 assists per game while shooting 47.5 percent from the floor. A preseason MVP favorite, his stock has been rising steadily over the last few games. If the 6-foot-7 Slovenian is able to maintain that kind of production and help establish the Mavericks’ winning ways this season, expect him to be a fixture in the MVP conversation.

“I think there’s a difference in the effort, the energy, the way we play the game,” Doncic said after beating the Pelicans. “We just gotta keep working on our defense…the effort is going to do it for us.”

Porzingis is also playing lights-out basketball after a rough start to his season. In the win over New Orleans, Porzingis put up 36 points on eight made three-pointers on 13 tries, moving his season averages to 20.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

“What’s going for me offensively is I’ve been putting in a lot of work and I’m patient,” Porzingis said after the win over New Orleans. “I’m patient in knowing that in the end, shots are gonna start falling and I’m gonna find better opportunities…at the same time knowing I have to stay aggressive, otherwise it’s not just gonna fall out of the sky, so that’s my mindset…[tonight] it felt easy and seamless.”

In that win, the dynamic duo of Doncic and Porzingis combined for 82 points, a cooperative performance that Dallas should come to expect and must be able to rely on if they are to continue winning games.

“They’re both great offensive players, they’re very unique,” said Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle after the win over New Orleans. “They fit together extremely well, their games complement each other extremely well. The chemistry tonight was incredible.”

It isn’t just Dallas’s star duo that’s erupting, however, as the Mavericks have several elite role players that are helping push the team back to the top of the Western Conference. Tim Hardaway Jr. has always been an unheralded player that has starred in his role with the team, as he averages 16.7 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from deep on just under eight attempts per contest.

Josh Richardson, Maxi Kleber, Trey Burke and Willie Cauley-Stein have all been impressive in spurts, as well, while Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith are some of the most efficient glue guys in the league.

Brunson is averaging 11.7 points on close to 50-40-90 shooting splits while Finney-Smith is a tenacious defender, tied with Doncic for most steals per game on the team, and is averaging 9.1 points per game.

“The decision for defensive player of the game tonight was not easy,” Carlisle said after beating New Orleans. “But Jalen Brunson got it because we had talked to our guards about the need for a lot of guard rebounding tonight…he had 6 rebounds, took the charge, so he got the belt tonight.”

While the Mavericks’ offense is now unleashed, the team still has a long way to go until it can truly contend — and that starts on the defensive end of the ball. At the end of this stretch, Dallas boasted the ninth-best offensive rating in the league but the fourth-worst defensive rating. With so many talented defenders on the roster, it’s a wonder as to why Dallas hasn’t been able to click on that side of the floor.

“We can get so much better defensively, it’s crazy,” Porzingis said. “That’s where we can make the most growth this season…the positive thing is that we can get much better and once we have our roles clearer…it’s better for everyone mentally…that’s when we can create that chemistry, when you wanna go harder for the other guy next to you, for your brother…I believe with the mindset that we’re having right now, we’re on the way there.”