ORLANDO, Fla. — Late Sunday night, Jason Kidd was breaking down an otherwise heartbreaking loss for the Dallas Mavericks, but he might as well have been sounding the alarm for his shorthanded basketball team.
Kidd’s Mavs have been without sweet-shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. for five days after breaking his foot, and they had to play sans Kristaps Porzingis on Sunday because of another injury. Not surprisingly, Luka Doncic had a strong case for nonsupport when his teammates bricked open looks time and again when the superstar guard made the correct play and passed out of double teams.
When Doncic passed out of a double team with 5.5 seconds to go and Dallas down two, the ball found Maxi Kleber, who missed an open 3-point look from the left corner. That was one of eight straight 3-point shots the Mavs took in the fourth quarter. Most of them were clangs, as was Kleber’s heave in the final second.
“As we move forward, somebody else is going to have to make a shot for us because they are going to take the ball out of Luka’s hands,” Kidd said, recalling what had just happened and predicting what will come. “This was a perfect example of that.”
Clearly, Kidd is hopeful that the Mavericks will add some talent around Doncic before the NBA Trade Deadline.
As the NBA Trade Deadline nears, the Dallas Mavericks absolutely need to fortify their roster
Knowing what a copy-cat league the NBA is, Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd knows that more NBA teams will send double teams at Luka Doncic to make him give up the ball — especially with Hardaway Jr. gone for the rest of the season and Porzingis injured again.
Immediately after losing Hardaway Jr., the Mavericks had no issues with a lack of firepower. They hung 132 points on Portland and Indiana in back-to-back lopsided wins. On Sunday, however, the weapons were few and far between outside of Doncic. Jalen Brunson scored 15 points, but only two came in the fourth quarter. Marquese Chriss, the fill-in center for Porzingis, scored 14 points, but he badly whiffed on an ill-advised 3-pointer late in the night. Dorian Finney-Smith missed a free throw that would have tied the game, and Kleber misfired on six of his eight shots.
If viewed in a one-game prism, this loss would be no big deal at all. The Mavericks were on the second night of a back-to-back, they were missing their second-best scorer, and they still almost won the game. But when viewed in the big picture, you realize that the Mavericks don’t have near enough firepower to be taken seriously as a contender in the rugged Western Conference.
As usual, superstar Luka Doncic is being asked to do too much by the shorthanded Mavericks
Sunday’s game started with Luka Doncic either scoring or assisting on Dallas’ first 11 points and 34 of the 46 points he was on the floor for in the first half.
After compiling his seventh triple-double of the season — 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists — Doncic moved into a 10th-place tie with Fat Lever for career triple-doubles with 43.
On the night, Doncic was on the floor for 91 of Dallas’ points, and 63 of them came off his baskets, free throws, or assists. It’s a lot to ask of a star player — even one as dynamic as Doncic.
At the end of the game, Doncic makes the right play — and it costs his team a chance to win
Dallas got the ball back with 16 seconds to play on Sunday night, and the natural inclination was to put the ball in Luka Doncic’s hands and let him make a play — either for himself or someone else.
Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley coached in Dallas from 2014-21, but you didn’t need experience with the Mavs to know that sending a double-team at Doncic was the right thing to do. That was especially the case late Sunday, considering the Mavs’ current hobbled state.
In the final seconds, Doncic sensed the double team, swung the ball to an open teammate, and Kleber ultimately missed what would have been the game-winning shot. Should Doncic have kept the ball and trusted himself over others? Not a chance, he said in his postgame interview.
“Great shots, and if next game they are going to double me, I’m going to do the same thing,” Doncic said even though his Mavs melted down late on Sunday. “Today, the shots didn’t go in, but I’ll trust my teammates any time.”
Kidd, who knows a thing or two about passing from his playing days, praised his superstar for playing the game the right way.
“They took the ball out of Luka’s hands, he made all the right plays, and the guys were wide-open,” Kidd said. “He did everything right. That’s what champions do, and that’s what leaders do — they trust that their teammates are going to make the right play and knock down shots. When that happens as we move forward, that’s just going to make the game so much easier for (Doncic). He’s the quarterback, and he made the right plays down the stretch, but we just weren’t able to make one of those eight threes.”
The Mavericks need help around Doncic, but they might not have enough trade assets
For all of Luka Doncic’s record-setting exploits and buzzer-beating shots over the past three seasons, he’s yet to win a playoff series. That might still be true if the Mavericks aren’t aggressive at the Feb. 10 NBA Trade Deadline while trying to add talent around their superstar.
Losing Hardaway Jr. — who is in the first year of a $92 million contract extension — was an especially devastating blow for Dallas. They are already one of the league’s worst 3-point shooting teams, and losing Hardaway Jr. means defenses will focus even more on collapsing around Doncic.
As for Porzingis, the market was already thin for him, and it’s probably even worse now with him beset by another knee injury. Because of his massive contract, extensive injury history, and moodiness, Porzingis is likely to command little in return in a deal.
The only pieces of significant value are point guard Jalen Brunson and defensive ace Dorian Finney-Smith. However, both are on team-friendly deals, and a high-salaried veteran will likely have to be thrown into any trade to bring back a difference-making weapon.
Time is ticking until the NBA Trade Deadline hits. Jason Kidd, who has re-tooled the Mavs this season into a team that wins with its defense, was sounding the alarm on Sunday night that the Mavericks are in desperate need of help around Doncic.
Incredibly, Dallas hasn’t won a playoff series since Dirk Nowitzki triumphantly lifted the Larry O’Brien and NBA Finals MVP trophies into the air in 2011. Injuries to Hardaway Jr. and Porzingis might keep that somewhat shocking playoff drought alive.
Doncic needs help in a big way to make the Mavs relevant again. Kidd, a basketball genius in so many ways, sees it. The superstar forward can see it, even if he says he trusts his poor-shooting teammates. Do nothing between now and the NBA Trade Deadline, and the Mavs and their superstar will almost certainly be looking at another early exit from the playoffs in the spring.
Sportscasting.com Senior Writer John Denton obtained all quotes in the article firsthand.
Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.