Wednesday, March 29 2023
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For nine straight games, no one in basketball could stop Luka Doncic. The Dallas Mavericks star opened the campaign with a nine-game streak of 30-point outings—the second-longest in NBA history to start a season behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s untouchable 23-game run in the 1962-63 season. That streak was snapped on Wednesday by perhaps the league’s most surprising possible opponent.

The Orlando Magic, owners of a 2-9 record entering their battle with Dallas and the No. 22-ranked defense in basketball, limited Doncic to 24 points on a miserable nine-of-29 shooting from the floor to secure a victory. The Mavericks led by as many as 10 points earlier in the game, but they put up only 13 points in the final quarter to secure their fourth defeat of the season.

This has become a somewhat disturbing trend for Dallas. They’ve lost three other games this season, and in those games, they scored just 24, 22 and 12 points, respectively, in the fourth quarter. While Spencer Dinwiddie was able to give Dallas 29 points in a stellar outing, the other three Mavericks in the starting lineup combined to contribute just 10 points. This is also a troubling trend the Mavericks are experiencing. When Dallas defeated Brooklyn on Monday, Dorian Finney-Smith gave them 18 points, but the three remaining starters aside from Doncic combined to put up only two points in the 96-94 victory.

All of this together paints a picture of an incomplete roster for Dallas. Last season, the Mavericks could rely on Jalen Brunson as their secondary reliable scorer. This season, the burden has shifted almost entirely onto Doncic. Players like Dinwiddie can pitch in from time to time, and shooters like Finney-Smith can get hot, but the overall shot-creation burden is placed solely on Doncic’s shoulders. He entered Wednesday’s loss with a usage rate of 39.2 percent. That would be the third-highest figure of all time in a single season, trailing only the peaks of James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

To some extent, there’s room for internal growth. Christian Wood—who missed Wednesday’s loss—is averaging just 11.2 points per game in his last six appearances after averaging over 24 in his first three games as a Maverick. Tim Hardaway Jr. is off to a slow start as well as he works his way back into form after missing most of last season. The Dallas offense is flawed, but it will improve.

But if it is going to hold up across four postseason rounds, it is going to have to get steady scoring from someone not named Doncic. Orlando contained the MVP candidate on Wednesday, and it did so with far less defensive talent than the Western Conference’s elite will be able to throw at him in the postseason. If the Mavericks want to credibly compete for the championship, they’re going to have to find their best player a bit of help. 



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