The NBA play-in race is making the Mavericks better

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Mavs Moneyball 10 May, 2021 - 08:00am 11 views

Why did Luka get ejected?

Mavericks' Luka Doncic ejected for hitting Cavaliers' Collin Sexton in the groin. ... Doncic, who finished with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul for the act, which results in an automatic ejection. CBSSports.comMavericks' Luka Doncic ejected for hitting Cavaliers' Collin Sexton in the groin

Every game is a must-win and the Mavericks are responding to the pressure

Luka Dončić hates the idea of the play-in tournament. Mark Cuban thinks the play-in tournament was an enormous mistake. Jalen Brunson described play-in as “Meh” on the recent Lowe Post podcast. Most Mavericks fans didn’t like it when the team was struggling and hovering around the eight spot in the Western Conference. When the Lakers, Mavericks rivals in the play-in race, started their free-fall in the standings Lebron James voiced his displeasure with the play-in tournament.

But as much as Lebron and the Lakers hate it know, and as much as the Mavericks fans will hate it again if Dallas drops to the 7th or 8th spot in the standings, the irony of the play-in race is, that it’s actually good for the Mavericks. Because of the new format, most of the teams are either competing for a playoff spot or trying to improve their position to avoid the play-in tournament. Since April 1st the Mavericks played twenty-two games, and only three of their opponents, Detroit, Houston, and Cleveland were not competing for the playoff spot.

During the stretch of the last ten games of the season, it seems that every game is a must-win for the Mavericks. And the Mavericks are not the only ones. Their opponents play with a much higher intensity than they would usually this time of the year.

The intensity and the must-win pressure are not the only things that have been playoff-like in the recent games. Over the stretch of the last 15 games, the Mavericks have seen a higher level of defenses and scheming. The schemes the Mavericks are facing are designed to take the ball out of Dončić’s hands. Mavericks opponents are doubling, trapping, even playing the full-court press against Dončić on a regular basis now. These are tactics usually saved for the playoffs. Per NBA Court Optix Dončić is the most double-teamed player in the league. Opponents double team Dončić on 44.8% of all possessions, and this number increased in April.

Dončić struggled to adjust to aggressive Heat defense early on, with some untimely turnovers. But as the game went on, he adjusted and the Mavericks pulled out an important win. More importantly, Dončić and the Mavericks got a lesson on what will be more to come down the line in the playoffs.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle talked about the different defenses Dončić faces and the progress he’s made in a recent pre-game interview:

The play-in race is giving Mavericks a crash-course in adjusting to playoff defenses on the fly. Earlier in April, the Mavericks played a playoff-like two-game series against the Los Angeles Lakers. Lakers double-teamed or trapped Dončić from the start on almost all ball-screen actions. Dončić was visibly frustrated by the Lakers' length and their aggressive defense.

During the course of the game both Carlisle and Dončić adjusted and figured out proper counters.

As Carlisle explained NBA game is about inches, and small tweaks can make a big difference. But these are exactly the kind of adjustments Carlisle and Dončić will need to make in a playoff series. They did against the Lakers and the Mavericks won both games.

There is another reason why the play-in race is a blessing in disguise for the Mavericks. High-pressure situations, defenses focusing on Dončić, and Kristaps Porzingis's absence made other role players step up. In the playoffs, the game will be much faster, even if possessions are down. Defenses rotate quicker, close-outs are more aggressive. Teams will take away the things players are most comfortable with. Your go-to move is gone. Even the role players will need to have counters. The good news for the Mavericks is, that we are seeing players like Dorian Finney-Smith evolve their game.

Finney-Smith used to be a spot-up shooter, comfortable only in predictable situations. His only role on offense was to fill the corners, make the open three-point shots and crash the offensive glass. Whenever Finney-Smith would dribble most Mavericks fans would get “Stanley from the office dribbling” vibes. Lately, Finney-Smith showed signs of developing into a true two-way player. He is more comfortable at attacking close-outs and driving to the basket. He has shown flashes of playmaking and making simple reads as a ball-handler. Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell developed nice chemistry, where Powell is often a recipient of pass on a cut after Finney-Smith attacks the close-outs on his drives. Heck, Finney-Smith is even pulling up for off-the-dribble threes in transition now.

Finney-Smith is thriving in an increased role, making teams pay when they focus on Dončić. He is averaging 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds over the last 15 games. He is shooting 53 percent from the floor and 46 percent from beyond the arc. The current Mavericks team lacked a true two-way wing player. If Finney-Smith can keep the current level of his play in the playoffs, this changes the long-term make-up of this team.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is another player who thrives when teams zero in on Dončić. With Porzingis sidelined, Hardaway Jr. is the highest variance player on the Mavericks roster. He is the guy that can swing a playoff game with his hot shooting. Hardaway Jr. scored a career-high 42 points against the Detroit Pistons when both Dončić and Porzingis were out and the Mavericks desperately needed a win in the play-in race. He swung another game in the Mavericks' favor when he hit 10 threes against the Miami Heat. Most of his 36 points against the Heat came by attacking the gaps out of Dončić double teams and traps. Hardaway Jr. is averaging 22.4 points and shooting 45 percent from three over the last ten games. It feels like Hardaway Jr. and Finney-Smith are the two players with the best on-court chemistry with Dončić. It’s their third season playing together and it shows on the court.

But probably the most important emergence in this stretch of the play-in race games was that of Dwight Powell. Powell struggled at the beginning of the season after trying to come back from the Achilles injury. He didn’t look explosive and had trouble finishing on lob passes on his signature rim runs. Lack of explosiveness meant he was a step slow, and a lot of his lobs would end with a miss or him getting fouled, instead of finishing. During the last month, Powell looks much more springy and almost as explosive as he was last season. He is back to his usual elite efficiency as a scorer, scoring 137.6 points per 100 shot attempts, which is even better than last season. Powell is scoring 1.358 points per possession as a roll-man in a pick and roll, ranking in the top 88 percentile in the NBA. These are absurd numbers for a player coming back from the most difficult injury in basketball.

Getting Powell back to his old level is a big boost to Carlisle’s offense. With the way, teams are pressuring Dončić, having a great vertical threat back in the arsenal makes life easier for Dončić. Not only is Powell great at attacking the rim, but he can also make the right reads on the short roll. Against traps, the short, quick pass is the best solution, and Powell is the most competent Maverick big man, as a decision-maker and passer on the short roll. The Dallas offense is based on making the most out of advantage in numbers created when teams pressure Dončić. Powell is a system player who knows what to do in those situations.

Powell also helps Dončić against switching, with his early slips and hard rolls to the basket.

Willie Cauley-Stein is the most versatile defensive big on the Mavericks roster, but Powell is a much better player on offense. The two-headed offense-defense center combo gives Carlisle wiggle room to use the best option on any given night based on matchups.

The play-in race where every game matters definitely made the Mavericks step up their game. With Porzingis out it is great to see key role players making the most out of the opportunities and expanded roles. Last season the Mavericks missed Brunson, Powell, and Cauley-Stein going into the playoffs. All three are back and playing well, which gives Carlisle more options. The key question of course is, the state of Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis missed the last six games because of knee soreness. The hope is that Mavericks are sitting him so he can be fully healthy and fresh for the playoffs. Carlisle said the plan for Porzingis is to play in some of the remaining regular-season games. Mavericks played eleven different starting lineups in twenty-one games since April 1st. With Porzingis out, the Mavericks tried different coverages and styles on defense as well. The key role players were up to the challenge and the team looks very comfortable and is peaking at the key time of the season.

We’ll see how the Mavericks will be able to incorporate Porzingis, so he and the team can find some rhythm together going into the playoffs. The challenge for Carlisle is how to do that and not mess up the rhythm of the key role players that stepped up big time during the recent stretch. Hopefully, the different lineups and styles Carlisle tried will add to more versatility in the playoffs. There are four more games remaining in the regular season. At least for now, every game is a must-win to avoid play-in and get a week of rest before the playoffs. Hate it or love it, the play-in race will keep the Mavericks sharp until the last game.

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Mavericks' Luka Doncic explains flagrant foul: 'That kind of stuff happens a lot'

Detroit Free Press 10 May, 2021 - 07:21am

Mavericks' Luka Doncic was ejected from the game after a flagrant foul on the Cavs' Colln Sexton, but insists their was no malicious intent.

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Luka Doncic admitted last week that he's been "complaining way too much" to the referees this season looking for calls, and it's resulted in 15 technical fouls.

He and the Dallas Mavericks had some complaints about a flagrant foul Sunday that got him ejected from their 124-97 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Doncic was assessed a flagrant foul 2 and ejected early in the third quarter after he struck Collin Sexton below the belt while the two were fighting for position on a rebound. Officials ruled Doncic made "an aggressive strike to the groin area" when he swung his right arm towards Sexton and hit him in the midsection.

Doncic insisted there was nothing malicious about his intent on the play.

Luka gets ejected for hitting Collin Sexton 😳 pic.twitter.com/op2KXrPAdT

"After I saw the video, I knew I hit him, but it wasn't nothing on purpose," Doncic said. "I think that kind of stuff happens a lot in games, but I don't know. That's my explanation. It obviously wasn't on purpose. It was just two guys fighting for a rebound, I guess."

Sexton said he didn't believe Doncic's play was intentional either and called it "just a basketball play."

"We're both competitors. It was just one of those things. Just a boxout play," Sexton said. "Usually, whenever someone is hand-checking, then you punch down or swing down. It was just in the groin, but it's all good."

The play occurred at the 10:05 mark of the third quarter with the Mavericks up 68-57. Cavaliers guard Isaac Okoro attempted a 3-pointer while Doncic and Sexton were under the basket jockeying for position. The ball went out of bounds after the shot, and officials initiated a video review.

A lengthy review ensued, and Doncic said he thought it was to see if his foul happened before or after the shot clock expired.

"That's what I thought they were looking at," Doncic said. "I was really surprised when they called a flagrant 2."

Sexton hit the two free throws after the foul to pull the Cavaliers within 68-59, but the Mavericks responded after Doncic's ejection. Dallas went on a 30-15 run to take control of the game on the way to a 27-point blowout.

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 25 points, including 13 during the Mavericks' run after Doncic's ejection. Josh Richardson had 20 points. Jalen Brunson shouldered more of the point guard duties and finished with 13 points and seven assists. Doncic had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists before being tossed.

"The Luka play, I'm not really going to comment on it because I didn't see it closely enough," said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. "It's unfortunate, but it sparked out guys and we did a good job finishing the game off."

Here are four more things to know Monday in the NBA:

Anthony Davis kept alive the Los Angles Lakers' hopes of avoiding the play-in tournament with a huge performance Sunday in a marquee win. Davis had 42 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 123-110 victory over the Phoenix Suns. Los Angeles remains seventh in the Western Conference and a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the final guaranteed playoff seed. With four games left, the schedule is set up favorably for the Lakers to climb back into sixth: three games against sub-.500 teams, while Portland closes with Utah, Phoenix and Denver.

"I feel good. I'm getting my legs back, I'm getting my rhythm back," said Davis, who played his 10th game since returning from a two-month injury absence. "Getting my steps back on both ends of the floor, so I feel good. I'm getting better each game, getting my wind back each game. We're headed in the right direction."

"We're headed in the right direction." @AntDavis23 talks post-game after dropping a season-high 42 points against the Suns. pic.twitter.com/pBB5TjCzNk

Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat got a key win of their own Sunday, while also dealing the Boston Celtics a crucial blow. Butler had 26 points and 11 rebounds as the Heat held off the Celtics 130-124 to strengthen their hold on sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Miami has won five of six and moved two games ahead of Boston with four to play. The teams meet again Tuesday in a huge rematch, and the result could determine where they ultimately finish in the regular season standings. The Heat can clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win and all but ensure the Celtics will be in the play-in.

"When we're not completely engaged for whatever reason, we're just not good," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "When we're completely engaged, we're a good basketball team. When we're not, we're not even close to being able to compete with anybody, let alone a team like Miami that's really playing well right now."

Brad Stevens was disappointed at the slow start and lack of competitiveness from the Celtics pic.twitter.com/hgHlTdxAf5

Russell Westbrook gets his first chance to become the NBA's new triple-double king Monday when the Washington Wizards take on the Atlanta Hawks. Westbrook matched Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's career record over the weekend with his 181st triple-double. With leading scorer Bradley Beal ruled out with a strained hamstring, Westbrook will shoulder the load for Washington, which has won 15 of 19 to surge into ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

Westbrook has 35 triple-doubles on the season. He had 26 points, six rebounds and four assists in the Wizards' first meeting with the Hawks on Jan. 29, but he's been on a real tear in the last two months with 25 triple-doubles in his last 32 games. Westbrook enters Monday's matchup averaging 22.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and a league-leading 11.5 assists per game.

The Utah Jazz haven't missed a beat without injured leading scorer Donovan Mitchell, and they can take another step towards clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on Monday. The Jazz are 8-4 since Mitchell sprained his right ankle and enter the day with a two-game lead on the Phoenix Suns with four left. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors currently occupy eighth place in the West and can clinch a spot in the play-in tournament with a win Monday. Curry has been one of the hottest players in the league, averaging 37.5 points per game since April 1.

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Mavs Talk: ‘We Can Beat Anybody’; Luka Doncic Bond With Kobe and Gianna Bryant

Sports Illustrated 09 May, 2021 - 10:32am

"Sometimes when we play teams that's not as good as Brooklyn, we don't come out with that fight. If we come out like we did tonight, we can beat anybody."

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"It was one of the worst games I played, but we got a win. That's all that matters."

"It's very special to have those guys here. Obviously Dirk, for me, is something to look up to here in Dallas. He's an amazing player, an amazing person. It just feels special when he's out there."

“We’ve got a little momentum here. We’ve got to keep it going.”

“Listen, I think it’s something that’s always worthwhile. It shows that you’re the best team in your region of the league. It’s big and we’ll take it.”

Everybody knows what time it is. It's that postseason energy, that postseason atmosphere, and that postseason grit that you have to be willing to have."

“Pretty dope, but we really want to start winning things for real in a couple of weeks. I think that’s the big deal here.”

The Mavs will look to build on their recent success on Sunday at 6:00 PM CST when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers once again at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

CONTINUE READING: Luka's Dallas Mavs Upset Nets With President Bush, Nowitzki and Cuban Watching

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