The final five minutes decided the Dallas Mavericks’ 120-114 crunch-time loss to the Washington Wizards Saturday night.
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 28, 2021
However, it was Dallas’ (10-8) bench production that kept it in the game, during stretches where Washington — led by Bradley Beal — attempted to pull away.
As a unit, the bench combined for 46 points; a number they reached without Jalen Brunson, who missed the game due to a foot injury. In his place, Trey Burke tallied 14 points (a season-high) on 5-7 shooting from the field and 2-4 from 3-point range.
“My teammates trust me and know what I can do,” Burke said of how he stays ready for games like Saturday’s. “A little bit of it is the trust from them [his teammates], trust in myself, and in this league, you just got to learn to stay ready. You never know what could happen.
“… It’s all situational. For me, I pride myself in just staying ready.”
Outside of Burke, Maxi Kleber was a massive contributor off the bench, as well. He scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds. Kleber played extended minutes alongside Kristaps Porzingis. And with both bigs having the ability to knock down 3-point jump shots, Luka Doncic possessed ample room to drive to the basket and create for others.
“We looked at KP and Maxi [playing together] heavily throughout the game,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “We will continue to look at that on Monday.”
Looking at lineups with Kleber in them
To no surprise, Dallas went away from pairing Porzingis with a non-shooting big in Dwight Powell or Willie Cauley-Stein. Both were relatively ineffective. And now, Kleber becomes the default option in terms of who to play at next to Dallas’ former All-star.
Kidd’s decision to look closely at Porzingis paired with Kleber comes with intrigue because if Dallas starts Kleber, it loses one of the most effective bench players on its roster.
But the argument not to give Kleber an extended run with the team’s starting five is slowly diminishing as Dallas continues to gain a net-0 from its center position.
One has to think Moses Brown will get an opportunity soon, right?
Regardless of when that may be, Kleber could provide the bandaid solution until Brown is ready.
Dallas’ stringent defense had some holes
What Kidd cited as the primary reason for the struggles in Saturday’s game was the porous defense played.
Washington shot 57.7 percent from the field. Beal only missed four shots (10-14) en route to 26 points. And Kyle Kuzma (22 points) iced the game with a dagger 3-pointer and two free throws. When Dallas needed stops, it couldn’t get them. And with no Brunson, the team lacked the offensive firepower to convert down the stretch.
“We got to play better defense, that’s it,” Doncic, who scored 33 points, said.
Better defense is a must. As of Saturday night, Dallas is 4-7 against teams with an above .500 record. This team has struggled to win against good teams because it has struggled to stop good teams.
Gone are the days of giving Doncic the ball and hoping Dallas outscores its opponents. It needs to start stopping them as well. If it can do so, and get great production from guys like Burke, Kleber, and the rest of the bench, Dallas could put the pieces together to go on a midseason run.
“We are still trying to find out identity on defense,” Burke said. “Once we figure out how to allow our defense to dictate how the rest of the game is flowing, our true potential will come out.”
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Feature image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports.