Everyone knew the Dallas Mavericks felt one move away when the season started.
But after a brutal three-game road stretch, it appears as though Dallas (9-10) is two, or three moves away from serious contention for an NBA championship. A disappointing reality for a team that went to the Western Conference finals last season.
First, it was the unsurprising loss to the Boston Celtics. That game was followed by a dud 105-100 loss to the Toronto Raptors, where Luka Doncic played an astounding and unsustainable 43 minutes on the first night of a back-to-back. Then, there was the road-trip-capping 124-115 defeat at the hands of Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks. In total, Dallas has lost four straight, marking the longest losing streak of the season.
“It was a shoot-out,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd opined about the game. “We lost.”
The Mavericks look uninspired. Too often there are possessions that divulge into Doncic watching, and opposing teams love it.
Dallas’ apparent limited roster
Early in the season, after Dallas dropped a road game to the Washington Wizards, Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma said what everyone knew was true but didn’t want to admit — the Mavericks as currently constructed are very limited.
“Their team is very limited outside of him,” Kuzma said then. “The ball is going to be in his hands the whole time.”
Teams are zeroing in on Dallas’ iffy-at-best shooters, allowing Doncic to score at will, knowing — eventually — he’ll get tired. As a result, many of Dallas’ role players are suffering through some of their worst shooting seasons to date, while Doncic’s numbers and usage continue to climb toward historic rates.
Against Milwaukee, Doncic scored 27 points and dished out 12 assists, while Dallas still lost by double digits.
Doncic’s limited supporting cast
Tim Hardaway Jr. is averaging 10 points per game while shooting 31 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three. Against Milwaukee, he ended a streak that saw him miss 13-straight 3-point shots over three games dating back to Nov. 20. To make matters worse, during Dallas’ four-game losing skid, he’s shot 5-of-29 (17.2 FG%) and 2-of-19 from three (10.5 3PT%) in 20.3 minutes per game.
Maxi Kleber recently returned after missing a handful of games because of an injury. In the two games he’s played since Nov. 17, Kleber has looked average — but that is all Dallas is going to get out of him. He’s a spectacularly unspectacular role player, who does what he’s supposed to and never more. The only problem is Dallas needs more.
Reggie Bullock sat out Sunday’s game. He was due for rest. However, it doesn’t change the fact that he is still struggling to convert on open jump shots.
Help in Christian Wood
And then there is Christian Wood, who Kidd elected to start in the second half against Milwaukee. The gifted scorer converted on four shots (4-for-4), scoring nine points, and leading a second-half charge that aided Dallas in staying competitive in the third quarter. It was a glimpse of what the offense could look like if Kidd elected to give Wood more playing time.
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) November 28, 2022
After the game, Kidd said he started Wood to “provide a different look.” It’s clear that Wood answered Kidd’s call. He finished the game with 21 points on 17 shots. What remains to be seen is if more minutes will come Wood’s way because of how well he played. The historical bet says no. But when the Mavericks find themselves under .500 and the only other longer active losing streak is the San Antonio Spurs, who are tanking, desperate times may call for desperate measures. Even for Kidd, who continues to sell the narrative of trusting his process.
Regardless of what Kidd’s process may yield, the truth remains, after losing Jalen Brunson for nothing over the summer, Dallas isn’t one move away from contention — it’s more like three.
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Feature image via Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports