The Mavericks fell to the Timberwolves Sunday night, 136-121. It was an ugly game, one in which Dallas didn’t look prepared to play. They fell behind early and despite repeated attempts, could never quite get back into things. The entire roster, minus Maxi Kleber, JJ Redick, and Tyrell Terry, saw time by the end of things, but it was clear the Mavericks didn’t have much interest in winning and as a result, they did not.
Instead of our more traditional format, we have here some thoughts on more than just this game but the season at large
It’s easy to forget this Dallas Mavericks team started the season with an 9-14 record. They were decimated by COVID-19 and playing some ugly basketball with players who had no business being in the rotation. Knicks fans were giddy with excitement over the possibility the first round pick owed to them could somehow wind up in the lottery. All hopes of the Mavericks reaching the postseason in a crowded western conference seemed lost.
There is a now-infamous tweet sent out by the SportsCenter Twitter account showing a dejected Luka Doncic with his head in his hands. It was a snapshot of the Mavericks season up until that point. Since then, the Mavericks not only saved their season, but found a way to avoid the play-in tournament altogether.
As fans, we live and die with every game. We forget that winning seven out of ten games is a pretty impressive feat. Instead, we focus on the fact those losses came at the hands of the Sacramento Kings and lose sight of the bigger picture. By all accounts, this regular season was a success.
Our generational star survived a grueling schedule without major injury and helped the team climb all the way to the 5th seed. Despite being out of shape and carrying heavy legs for most of the season, Luka managed to add to his already phenomenal game. He added a reliable mid-range jumper and consistently punished opponents in the post.
Luka’s greatness has given fans hope but it is also the source of our angst. Maverick fan’s stood by and watched the front office struggle to find a star to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. They saw a championship roster be torn down with the promise that upgrades were on the way. Instead, Dallas’s front office consistently struck out in free agency and Dirk was never given the type of support he needed to make another deep post-season run.
We are now in the era of player empowerment. Players have held their teams hostage and forced their way out of town on numerous occasions. It’s almost an annual tradition at this point. Luka’s second contract hasn’t been signed yet. However, the second the ink touches the paper, the clock will start to tick on Mark Cuban and company.
This year’s team is far from being a contender. The Mavericks are playing with house money and will use this playoff run to evaluate how every member of the team fits around their superstar. If Dallas fans hope to avoid hearing Luka’s name pop up in trade rumors, the Maverick’s front office must utilize the lessons learned from this postseason and use this upcoming offseason to build the type of team around Luka they failed to build around Dirk late in his career.
Simply put, the LA Clippers are a better basketball team than the Dallas Mavericks. Some fans believe the Mavericks would have beat the Clippers had KP stayed healthy last postseason. I am not among that group. This Mavericks team is not as good as the team we saw in last year’s bubble (editor’s note: SPICY TAKE).
This Clipper team, on the other hand, is a year removed from the chemistry issues that ultimately cost them a chance at a championship. The Clippers have the third best odds to take home the title and with good reason. This regular season was irrelevant for them. The second their season ended at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers have been looking forward to this very moment. This postseason is about redemption for them. Expect a hungry and motivated team to show up in the playoffs.
It is impossible to say if the Mavericks were quietly tanking this game in hopes of drawing a first-round matchup against the Nuggets or if they were once again playing down to their competition. It was a terrible performance and erased any possibility the Mavericks are peaking as they head into the playoffs. The week of rest should help but it is going to take more than fresh legs to beat the Clippers four times in seven games.
Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.