The Dallas Mavericks haven’t played well against playoff-caliber opponents this season. Against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, that didn’t change.

In all fairness, Dallas (4-3) played shorthanded with no Kristaps Porzingis or Maxi Kleber in the frontcourt, but to Miami, it didn’t matter. One team had to win. And After a slow start, Miami used a second-quarter blitz and the enigmatic play of Kyle Lowry to beat Dallas 125-110 at American Airlines Center.

“Being so small, that can hurt you,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said after the game. “But the other side of it too is that we got some great looks and they just didn’t go down again.”

Made shots or not, the game was lost, for Dallas, in transition and points in the paint. When it came to fast break points, Miami outpaced Dallas to the tune of 19-3. When Miami elected to run, its offense got any look it wanted. What was an improving Dallas defense, in recent games, looked dreadful when attempting to stop the shifty, crafty and streaky guards on Miami’s roster.

“Our transition defense wasn’t up to par, and that was pretty much the game for us,” Kidd said.

As for points in the paint, that should be chalked up to Dallas missing two of its vital frontcourt players in Porzingis and Kleber. However, those injuries don’t excuse the 48 points Dallas’ defense handed to Miami in the painted area by way of Lowry’s drive and dishes and his teammates who fed off his offensive creation.

Doncic’s night by the numbers:

In a game where Dallas’ defense gave way, Luka Doncic continued to find his offensive footing. At least for the first three-quarters of Tuesday’s contest. He scored 33 points on the game, and 27 of them came through quarters one, two and three. In the fourth quarter, he appeared to run out of gas.

Without a late-game garbage-time 3-pointer, Doncic would have scored only three points in the final frame. With the garbage-time 3-pointer included, he went 2-6 through his last seven minutes of game action.

Dallas cut the lead to single digits at the start of the fourth with Doncic on the bench. And Miami’s lead ballooned back out to double-digits with Doncic on the floor. Now, that doesn’t mean the loss is because of Doncic, but it forces one to at least ask, why couldn’t one of the best 22-year-old scorers in the NBA close out a winnable game at home?

This issue isn’t a relatively new occurrence either. In the playoffs last season, Doncic produced otherworldly numbers through three quarters. And without fail, by the fourth quarter, he looked gassed on multiple occasions. Kidd was hired to help alleviate that issue in Doncic’s near-perfect game, and it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it just takes time. And maybe by the mid-point of the season, the closing struggles are a thing of the pass. But maybe – in part – this is who Doncic is becoming as a player; great enough to keep Dallas in games, but anything after that is still unknown.

Jalen Brunson starting surge: 

Starting alongside Doncic Tuesday night was Jalen Brunson, who played one of his best games all season. He scored 25 points on 73 percent shooting from the field (10-13), and he showed tenacity and grit that suggest he might be Dallas’ answer for a secondary playmaker alongside Doncic.

“Being able to have a second ball-handler out there is going to help him [Doncic],” Kidd said. “They [Miami] were picking him up full court, they were going to make him work. And they were just trying to wear him down, so I told him to let Brunson bring it.

“… That’s just another way to rest too. As good as he [Doncic] is, he can’t be involved in every possession. He won’t make it through an 82-game season. So I thought Brunson did an incredible job.”

In Brunson’s 12 starts last season, he averaged 16.6 points per game, according to Mavs PR. He’s shown that when he gets extended minutes and the freedom to create within the offense, he is a starting-caliber guard in the NBA. The question now becomes, when will Kidd empower Brunson to fulfill the potential he oozes onto the floor for stretches at a time?

That is another proposition that can only be answered in time. However, what remains effervescently clear is Dallas’ immediate need for a No. 2 ball handler within Kidd’s offense. And that second playmaker may have been under Dallas’ nose the entire time.

“This is something we have to look at,” Kidd said. “He played extremely well. Being able to have that type of ball handler and basketball IQ out there on the floor with Luka is a positive for us. When there are injuries, you get an opportunity to look at different lineups. And him and Luka out there is a plus for us.”

Looking ahead: 

As opposed to leagues like the NFL, the NBA has a slog of games to work through, meaning Dallas will be back in action Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. What Miami has regarding depth, defense and shot creation, San Antonio lacks the same punch. Yet, on the second night of a back-to-back, anything may happen. It’s still unclear whether Porzingis and Kleber will play, and after a loss like Tuesday, Dallas needs frontcourt depth soon rather than later.

Related Mavericks reading: 

“Rise and Fall: Mavericks roster trends after week two.” 

Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.