DALLAS – The saying goes, water always finds its level.

The same can be said for the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Sacramento Kings 105-99 on Sunday afternoon at American Airlines Center.

Jason Kidd inserted Maxi Kleber into the starting lineup to infuse a spark. It worked. For what felt like the first time all season, Dallas led after the first quarter. Though the early 20-5 lead disappeared, the initial momentum helped carry Dallas throughout the rest of the game.

“I thought, on Holloween, why not start fast? And we started great,” Kidd said. “That start showed the commitment to detail we have in this locker room. I am proud of their effort.”

However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Injuries continue to mount for Dallas; Kleber left the game with an apparent back injury in the second quarter. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t play for the third game in a row. And now both bigs appear to have similar injuries – back strains and tightness.

Despite the team’s hardships, Luka Dončić managed to kick his poor play to the curb. He scored 23 points and hit the shot of the season thus far for Dallas.

With four minutes left in the game, Dončić lost control of his dribble after it was tipped by Tristan Thompson. He ran into the backcourt to reclaim possession, but only five seconds remained on the shot clock. He had to make a decision. So, one step inside the halfcourt line, Dončić let his 3-point shot go. It was prayer at best. And as the shot clock buzzed, it was a prayer answered.

“I am confident in all my threes,” Dončić said. “The more you practice them – not really practice them, but having fun a little bit – then you need a shot like this, like [the one] I made today, and I think that’s from that.”

Not long after, Dončić launched an 80-foot pass to Tim Hardaway jr., which resulted in a fast-break dunk. As quickly as the Kings fought back into the game, the Mavericks shut the door in a few minutes.

Team defense carries Dallas early in the season.

Dallas staved off a comeback effort from the Kings, but the shooting numbers still aren’t where the team would like them to be.

Hardaway believes that the best version of Dallas’ offense is still to come, he said. And to get there, Dallas will have to lean on its defense until the outside shots start falling with consistency.

Against Sacramento, Dallas shot 32 percent from three and 44 percent from the field. The game was won in holding Sacramento’s offense to 19 percent from three and 39 percent from the field. De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes, key cogs in Sacramento’s offensive scheme, were both held under their season averages.

Barnes scored 15 points while Fox tallied 14. And both combined for a dreadful 2-12 from behind the 3-point line. Some would attribute it to missing shots, but Dallas believes it was the defense that made things difficult all throughout the game.

“Again, our defense, to hold one of the top 10 teams in offense tonight is something those guys take pride in,” Kidd said. “Our defense gave us the opportunity to win here at home against a team that can put up points in a hurry.”

With shooting not a given during any game, Dallas’ concerted effort on the defensive end is inspiring for the future of the team. And though the Mavericks are far from being an elite ball club, Sunday afternoon was a step in the right direction.

Looking ahead: 

Next up for Dallas is the Miami Heat on Tuesday. It is still unclear whether Porzingis or Kleber will play, but if Dončić continues to find his footing, they might not need to. This team is still searching for an identity, and building one won’t come easy. However, a team’s identity is only built one game at a time.

“We are just wanting to make sure we do a great job of making sure when guys come in here, it’s not going to be easy,” Hardaway said. “And we want to make sure we put our foot down and bring that intensity on both ends of the floor to show them that we mean business when we are at home.”

Related Mavericks reading: 

“The comeback Mavericks lose their luster in Denver.” 

Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.