Qualifying Mavericks: Christian Wood is playing winning baksetball
Dallas is 18-16 after winning three of its four games last week. They lost Maxi Kleber to hamstring surgery, and Josh Green, Dorian Finney-Smith and Kemba Walker remain out with short-term ailments. The Mavericks ride a three-game winning streak in a three-game week.
Equipment rating: B+
Being in the business of valuing certain victories over others is dangerous. You can only play the games in front of you, and it’s a much better mindset to believe that your next win is your best win ever. That’s precisely why the Mavericks had a good week. They played twice against a Minnesota team that has no identity, a Rockets team that is at the bottom of the West, and a lakers team without Anthony Davis that seems to be in complete disarray. They went 3-1 in those games, which was to be expected. Winning the games you have to play is nice, and Dallas finally did it.
As the midseason injury bug begins to take its toll, the Mavericks have run out of guards to back up Luka Doncic. Mckinley Wright IV was called up and played 23 total minutes between games on Friday and Sunday. The stats won’t show anything crazy, but he has great game sense and is really good at keeping the defender on his back and getting to the floater position from him. He also showed some defensive intensity and had some great offensive rebounding against the Lakers.
Luka Doncic had perhaps his worst game of the season, the first round against the Timberwolves, and his highest scoring game of the season, dropping 50 against the Rockets. He continues to bounce back after poor performances, and there’s just no telling how much an aggressive Doncic means to this team.
Dallas improved to 11-1 when Tim Hardaway Jr. shoots 45 percent or better from the field. Little by little he has become the second most important player for the Mavericks on offense, due to his volume and the type of shots he takes. He has almost three drives per game in the last ten games, which is crucial to the success of this team. Hitting his 3-pointer is important, but when he’s aggressive, the Mavericks are a much better team, and his aggressiveness fuels his shooting pace.
Straight A’s: Christian Wood
It only took every other center (except for Javale McGee) getting hurt for Christian Wood to finally step into a starting role. Since becoming the leader five games ago, he is averaging 18 points, nine rebounds, two assists, 1.4 steals and 2.4 blocks on 50 percent shooting from the field and 81 percent shooting from the line. The bottom line: he’s become a winning basketball player since he became a starter.
This is a very small sample size and the opponents haven’t been stellar, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that you get good results when you play your best players. He’s been an excellent short roller, culminating in seven assists against the Lakers. He has protected the paint, with six (!) consecutive games of two or more blocks. He’s shown that he can be a force around the basket, shooting 73 percent from 10 feet (and 67 percent on 2-pointers overall) in the last five games. Even when he could only rack up eight points against Houston, he impacted the game defensively with four blocks.
Basketball is all about opportunity, and Wood got his when Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber went down. He’s finding ways to matter, which is exactly what playing winning basketball is all about. The Mavericks have a great opportunity to face teams they should beat, and Wood has a great opportunity to keep the ball rolling.
Failing miserably: Luka Doncic on defense
Doncic is otherworldly on offense, but the area that seems to be taking the biggest hit from his use is his defense. He’s never been much of a defender, but he’s been useful most of the time. Recently, however, there has been a noticeable drop in effort and awareness of it. For example, in this play he simply gets caught in no man’s land before giving up a cut to Jaden McDaniels:
He has missed rotations and has fallen asleep like this more often. Surely this is a byproduct of his charging on the other end and the way this team is built, but team defensive concepts only work when the whole team accepts, and that starts with your best player. More defensive effort from Doncic would go a long way on nights when shots don’t fall.
Extra Credit: The Magic of a Christmas Game
Every player growing up dreams of playing on Christmas and every fan hopes to attend their team’s Christmas game. I’m lucky to have been to the Dallas Christmas game against the Lakers, and it was a magical day.
It started with the unveiling of the Dirk statue, which was more perfect than we could have hoped for. There were Nowitzki “Hardwood Classic” jerseys in the store, giving the stadium a nostalgic feel. Luka Doncic entered the ring in the most Texan way possible:
Lebron James, the face of the game for over a decade, came to town and put on a show. We got the Doncic vs. James matchup we wanted, with James scoring 38 points and Doncic scoring 32. Both teams donned their city-edition uniforms, and the Mavericks paired that with their retro city-edition court:
The Mavericks tied a franchise record for points in a quarter with 51 in the third, and prevented the Lakers from throwing coal into the Mavericks’ socks. Chants of “beat LA” rang out on defense and “MVP” as Doncic went to the free throw line. The home team took care of business and “The King” couldn’t defend his Christmas throne against Dallas once again.