The 2021-22 Dallas Mavericks exceeded expectations, but there’s more work to do

After defeating the Utah Jazz in the first of the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks 2021-22 NBA season became a success, and anything after that was gravy. After defeating the Suns in seven in the second round, they kept adding gravy to this season, but it all ended in Game 5 at Chase Center against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

The Mavs got out of the first round for the first time since they won an NBA title in 2011 and had their highest win total(52) since the 2014-15 season.

With the addition of Jason Kidd as the head coach and 23-year-old Luka Doncic as their star, the future looks pretty bright for the Mavericks. 

“I’m really proud of this team, everybody, every player, every staff member,” Doncic said after their Game 5 loss to the Warriors. “Nobody had us here. But I promise we fought until the end.”

No one had the Mavs in the conference finals, especially after they were 16-18 on December 29 and down 2-0 to the Suns in the second round, but they never gave up.

“To be able to play into May and to make it to the Western Conference finals is a great accomplishment for this team and for everyone, coaching staff included,” Kidd said after the Game 5 loss to the Warriors. “We have to go back, we’ll review the last three series and see where we can get better as coaches, and then we’ll spend time with the players this summer to make sure that they’re working on the right thing.”

The Mavs became a one-star team after trading Kristaps Porzingis away to the Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans before the trade deadline.

It was Doncic and role players, and it worked.

Kidd acknowledged that the Mavs did not have a second star, and he feels if the Mavs don’t add a second star, things still will be good in Dallas next season.

“We didn’t, so-called, have a second star; we had a team,” Kidd said. “Luka got a lot of the attention, but I think when you look at what (Mark)Cuban and Nico(Harrison) will do this summer, and (Michael Finley)Fin, they’re going to look to improve the team. I think that’s just a natural thing in sports that you’re going to try to improve, and if you can, you will, but if you don’t, you have a core here that’s pretty good.”

The Mavs biggest free agent is Jalen Brunson, who had a great season and playoff run. Brunson averaged 21.6 points per game in these playoffs. He’s going to get paid! Maybe Dallas will pay him, or perhaps somebody else will pay, but he’s getting paid in the end. Some believe around $20-plus million a year.

“I think it’s easy; it’s the top priority,” Mavericks GM Nico Harrison recently said about bringing Brunson back. “We’ve got to figure that out. Obviously, we’re not in control of it, but he’s definitely a priority. We want to re-sign him. He knows that we want him back. He’s a big part of our future.”

The Mavs have to find another star to compliment Doncic, but not sure they should pay Brunson. They still have Spencer Dinwiddie and Tim Hardaway Jr., so they can afford to let Brunson go via sign-and-trade, which could get them another piece. 

It should be interesting to see if the Mavs’ success was fool’s gold, and possibly a fluke, like last year’s Hawks, who made it to the Eastern Conference finals but brought everybody back and could not get out of the first round this season. Dallas does not want to be that, so this offseason will be significant. 

Dallas surpassed all expectations this season, but taking that next step won’t be easy.

Suns’ Booker: ‘I’ve never been in a Game 7; it’s gonna be fun’

The Dallas Mavericks have forced a Game 7 after defeating the Phoenix Suns 111-86 in Game 6 at American Airlines Center on Thursday night.

Game 7 is Sunday in Phoenix.

Of course, Luka Doncic led the way for the Mavericks with 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. Per Stathead, Doncic is only the fifth player in NBA history to record this stat line in a playoff game.

“I don’t care about stats if we win,” Doncic said after the win. “If we win, I am good. Statistics don’t really matter to me, but if we win, it is going to be amazing. We have another game. We won this game on the defensive end, and now we have another game. It is fun. It’s the playoffs, and we are going to give our everything.”

The Mavericks forced 22 turnovers(which led to 29 points), including a season-high 16 steals by Dallas. 

With their backs against the wall, Dallas head coach Jason Kidd felt the team showed some pride and fed off their home crowd.

“I thought the fans were great,” Kidd said. “I thought we played off of the fans. I thought they were involved for 48 minutes tonight. But I thought the guys, too, were attuned to the game plan and came out and executed it to a T. Again, turnovers were something that we talked about – kept those down—made open shots. Everyone was involved; the ball was touching the paint. And then, defensively, we were active. We got deflections, came up with steals. I thought the vibe was high. That group in that locker room, we’ve talked about it, will always bounce back after a bad game. They felt they had a bad game, bounced back. Now we’ve got to figure out how to win on the road.”

The Mavs are 3-0 in Dallas at home against Phoenix in this series and have beaten the Suns by an average of 15 points. However, the Suns are 3-0 in Phoenix versus Dallas in this series; they have won by an average of 19 points.

According to Reggie Bullock, who scored a postseason-career-best 19 points (5-11 3FG) to go with seven rebounds and two steals, Dallas must have the same energy they brought to Game 6 in Game 7.

“Bring the same energy from the jump,” Bullock said about Game 7. “Be ready to punch them in the mouth early. Just keep that going throughout the game. They are a great team, and it is a hostile environment up there. But at the same time, we are just going to come with a lot of energy and just keep playing the way we have been playing all year.”

Obviously, you don’t want to play a Game 7, but Devin Booker, who had 19 points in the loss, is looking forward to it.

“We work all season to have home-court advantage and get the last game in our house, and that’s exciting,” he said. “It’s Game 7. I’ve never been in a Game 7. It’s gonna be fun.”

It’s win or go home for both teams, and based on their regular-season record of 32-9 at home and their dominance at home over the Mavs in this series, Phoenix is the favorite In Game 7. However, with Luka Doncic, anything can happen.

 

 

Doncic on Paul: ‘He’s tough, man; he’s a hell of a player’

The Dallas Mavericks have not had an answer for the Phoenix Suns in over two years, and they continued to have no answers for Phoenix on Wednesday night.

After leading 89-86 with over 11 minutes left in the fourth, the Suns went on a 33-9 run to take their largest lead at 122-95 with just under four minutes to go to take Game 2 129-109 at Footprint Center.

Phoenix leads the series 2-0 as the scene shifts to Dallas for Game 3 Friday night.

The Mavs, who have not defeated the Suns since 2019, have lost 11 consecutive games to Phoenix.

Phoenix shot 65% from the field, a new Suns postseason franchise record in a single playoff game. The Suns scored 40 points and shot 84% from the floor in the fourth, and Chris Paul had 14 of his 28 points in the final period.

“Like I always say, just playing the game,” Paul said about the fourth quarter. “Book (Devin Booker) started that third quarter, got us going. You know, I read the game. And other guys on the team made big shots whenever they made a run, just to get us going and get us warmed up into the game. Just feeding off of that.”

Booker, who led the Suns with 30 points, added on Paul: “I remember growing up – I don’t want to take it back to when I was five years old again – but me and my dad watched him play, and he was like, ‘do you see how he makes sure everybody is involved, and then he picks his times when he’s going to take over the game?’, and I’ve just always admired the way he does that. He’s just in control at all times. He’s two, three steps ahead of whatever the other team is doing. And just the leadership, that can never go unnoticed when you’re talking about this man. Just the way he holds people accountable, the will to win. The list keeps going on and on; that’s why he has the nickname (Point God) that he does.”

Luka Doncic led the Mavs with 35 points, and just like everybody else, he was impressed with Paul.

“He’s tough, man; he’s a hell of a player,” Doncic said about Paul. “He’s been in this league a lot of years; he knows what this is about, so he’s very tough. But like I said, we have to do a better job with him.”

Like Game 1, Mavs head coach Jason Kidd says Doncic needs help from others if Dallas wants to compete in this series. 

“He had a great game, but no one else showed,” Kidd said. “We’ve got to get other guys shooting the ball better. We can’t win with just him out there scoring 30 a night. Not at this time of the year, and we’re playing the best team in the league, and so we’ve got to get other guys going.”

The Suns look like the team that won 64 games in the regular season right now, and that team was tough to beat in the regular season, and that team will be tough to beat for the Mavericks. The series is not over, but the Mavs have to find a way to turn things around in Dallas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mavs’ Doncic on loss to Suns: ‘I think our defense lost us the game tonight’

Luka Doncic did his job in the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals Monday night. Doncic had 45 points(one short of playoff career-high), 12 rebounds, and eight assists.

However, that was overshadowed by Deandre Ayton’s(12/20 FG) 25 points and eight rebounds and Devin Booker’s 23 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists as the Suns had six players in double figures, including all five starters. Phoenix would lead from start to finish and defeat the Mavericks 121-114 at Footprint Center to take a 1-0 series lead.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Phoenix.

The Suns, who led by as many as 21 points in this one, have defeated the Mavs 10 straight times(regular season and playoffs combined).

Mavs head coach Jason Kidd liked what Doncic did, but according to him, Doncic needed more help.

“He got whatever he wanted,” Kidd said after the loss. “When you look at the shots in the paint, behind the arc, midrange, and then also he got his teammates some great looks that we normally have made, I thought he played great. We didn’t play him the whole game. Again, in the fourth quarter, those guys started to get a rhythm and played harder, but I thought he played great.”

After three quarters, the Suns scored 96 points. In addition, they finished the game shooting 51% from the field. Doncic felt the team’s defense lost Game 1.

“I think our defense lost us the game tonight,” Doncic said. “I think our start on the defensive end was terrible, and we’ve got to change that. I know we can play way better defense, and I know we will.”

The Suns came out with a lot of energy in this one, and they used their size to punish the Mavs on the glass as they outrebounded Dallas 51-36. Against the Jazz, Dallas was able to take advantage of Rudy Gobert because he could not hurt them on the offensive end. However, Ayton can and did hurt the Mavs, which Booker discussed postgame.

“He’s a beast down there, and he proves it night-in and night-out,” Booker said of Ayton. “That’s what teams try to go to verses us, just have five guards out there and switch it one through five, and that’s his time to punish them.”

The Mavs clearly have had a hard time defeating the Suns as they haven’t beaten Phoenix since 2019. The Suns have the their number, but there’s hope. Dallas lost Game 1 to the Jazz last round and won four of the next five games in that series.

However, Dallas must be better defensively and get a little more from other players not named Luka Doncic. 

Notes:

-Shooting 51% in the win, Phoenix has now shot 50+ FG% in all seven of their playoff games this postseason. The seven consecutive games shooting 50+ FG% is a franchise postseason record.

-Chris Paul totaled 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting tonight, to go along with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block. With this third assist tonight, Paul passed Tony Parker for fifth on the NBA’s all-time playoff assists list.

-Maxi Kleber added 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting tonight in 25 minutes off the bench for Dallas. Kleber knocked down a game-high five three- pointers on eight attempts in the game.

 

 

Paul on Bridges: ‘He doesn’t miss games, he guards the best players every night’

Coming into Game 5 of their first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Phoenix Suns won two games because of two 19-point fourth quarters from Chris Paul. CP3 got the job done for the Suns in Game 5 as he had 22 points and 11 assists. However, Mikal Bridges was the star of the game.

Bridges, who finished second for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, tied a playoff career-high with 31 points on 12/17 shooting from the field, including 4/4 from downtown, five rebounds, two steals, and four blocks in 47 minutes of action as the Suns defeated the Pelicans 112-97 at Footprint Center to take a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 is Thursday night in New Orleans.

Bridges did it on both ends of the court. According to StatMuse, the players he guarded were 3/17 from the floor with seven points.

“He doesn’t miss games, he guards the best players every night, and then he has 31,” Paul said.

Bridges, who has never missed an NBA game in four seasons, was ready to keep on playing after the win.

“I’m ready to play tomorrow. I’m teed up, man,” Bridges said. “I’m energized; my teammates keep me going. You got me itching my knee right now because I’m talking about it. I need to calm down, I need to breathe, but I’m just ready, man.”

Deandre Ayton, who had 19 points and nine rebounds, added on Bridges: “The man takes care of his body, and he approaches the game the same way every day; he doesn’t change.”

Without Devin Booker, it’s all hands on deck for the Suns, and Bridges got the job done. The Suns have to end this series in Game 6; Phoenix does not want to be in a position where they have to play a Game 7. The Suns are the better team, and as the better team, they have to put the Pelicans away Thursday night.

76ers’ Harris: ‘We gotta be better’

No team in NBA history has come back from an 0-3 deficit, but the Toronto Raptors are two games away from being the first to do it after winning Game 5 against the 76ers 103-88 at Wells Fargo Center.

The 76ers hold a 3-2 series lead, but the momentum is with the Raptors as the series shifts to Toronto for Game 6 Thursday night.

Toronto was without Fred VanVleet(hip), but Pascal Siakam had a game-high 23 points to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Joel Embiid led the 76ers with 20 points and 11 rebounds;

Tobias Harris, who had 16 points and seven rebounds, says the 76ers did not bring the right energy in Game 5. 

“To be honest with you, this is a tough loss for us, a game that we wanted,” Harris said. “We didn’t put enough effort into getting the W, but we gotta stick together. We gotta figure out how we can gather that type of energy and be able to be at our best; we really just gotta focus on what’s worked for us through the series in the games that we have won and what has been successful, and we have to just do more of that, we can’t get away from what has really worked during our three games that we have won, and that’s just the motto for the next game, we gotta be better.”

James Harden had 15 points and seven assists on 11 shots(4-11). That’s not bad, but Philly needed more, and Embiid, who is battling a torn ligament in his thumb, says the former MVP has to be more aggressive.

“I’ve been saying all season since he got here, he needs to be aggressive, and he needs to be himself,” Embiid said about Harden. “That’s not really my job. That’s probably on Coach to talk to him and tell him to take more shots, especially if they’re going to guard me the way they’ve been guarding.”

The 76ers shot 38% from the, including 27% from deep. Also, they had 15 turnovers, which led to 20 points for Toronto. But despite the struggles on offense, Embiid is not concerned.

“I don’t know if you can see, but they double me just like last game, really everywhere whether that’s the post, the elbow, the three-point line,” Embiid said. “You can tell they are really trying to get the ball out of my hands, so we didn’t make shots today, but we just gotta keep trusting, and we will be better.”

As they get ready for Game 6, Philadelphia must be better. Embiid looks noticeably uncomfortable with his injured thumb, but he has to fight through it. Harden is either hurt or lost a step, but like Embiid, he has to be better. 

The 76ers are still in control, but they don’t want this series to go back to Philadelphia for Game 7 because anything can happen at that point.

Expect the 76ers to bounce back Thursday night in Toronto.

Mavs’ Kidd on Doncic: ‘It looks like he’s been playing this whole series’

In the regular season, Luka Doncic led the Mavs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game, and Monday night at American Airlines Center, he led the Mavs in three of those four categories.

Doncic had game-highs of 33 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists as the Mavericks defeated the Jazz 102-77 in Game 5 to go up 3-2 in their best-of-seven first-round series. 

Teams that win Game 5 of a 2-2 best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 82.2% of the time (180-39)

Dallas led by as many as 20 points in the first half and had their largest lead of the game of 33 points in the third. Doncic, who was in his second game back after straining his calf in the regular-season finale, took over in the third. He scored 19 points, including three made three-pointers.

“He(Doncic) got going there in the third,” Mavs head coach Jason Kidd said after the win. “But Luka, again, for his second game back, it looks like he’s been playing this whole series. His conditioning, his effort on the defensive end, again, as we talked about rebounding the ball, he’s one of the best for us, and he did that for us tonight.”

During Doncic’s big third quarter, the fans were very much into the game, which he discussed post-game.

“It’s amazing,” Doncic said. “It’s one of those feelings that you just can’t describe. The whole arena is cheering for you, for your team. It’s unbelievable. I think the fans were amazing today. They helped us get this win. If it’s not for them, I don’t think we would win the game. They push us up every time we were tired. Our guys were tired, but they push us up, and I just want to thank them.”

Doncic had 30 points and 10 assists in Saturday’s loss to the Jazz, but according to him, he felt a lot better in Monday’s win over Utah.

“Way better than the first game,’ he said. “The first game, I was janky, but I feel better today. I think the first couple games I was tired, but today I was OK. I think the run in the third, I was feeling tired but just getting my air back and hydrated.”

Late in the game, with the Mavs in complete control, Doncic was fouled by Hassan Whiteside. Ultimately, there was some pushing and shoving, and Whiteside and Reggie Bullock would get ejected. According to Doncic, it was no big deal.

“Oh, nothing,” he said. “It’s playoffs; it’s playoffs. There’s always gonna be attention, but it was nothing. I tried to dunk it and wasn’t successful, but it’s the playoffs. These things happen in the playoffs.”

The Mavs are one game away from getting to the second round for the first time since 2011. They were up 3-2 on the Clippers last season and fell short. Maybe, just maybe, they have learned from that experience. 

Game 6 is Thursday night in Utah.

Notes:

-Jalen Brunson recorded 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists tonight. This was Brunson’s fifth consecutive game with 20+ points, making him the 7th player in franchise history with five-or-more consecutive postseason games scoring 20+ points.

-Dorian Finney-Smith added 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 41 minutes tonight.

-Jordan Clarkson led Utah with 20 points off the bench.

Morant wins Most Improved Player award

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has been named the 2021-22 NBA Most Improved Player, the league announced Monday.

A three-year NBA veteran, Morant becomes the first player to win the NBA Most Improved Player Award with Memphis. The annual award, which was first presented in the 1985-86 season, is designed to honor an up-and-coming player who has made a dramatic improvement from the previous season or seasons.

Morant received 221 points (38 first-place votes) from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters. San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray finished in second place with 183 points (20 first-place votes). Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland finished in third place with 178 points (11 first-place votes). P

layers were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote.

A first-time NBA All-Star selection this season, Morant averaged a career-high 27.4 points, 6.7 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 33.1 minutes in 57 games. He also shot a career-best 49.3 percent from the field. Morant, 22, is the third player in NBA history to reach his 2021-22 numbers in points, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage within his first three seasons, joining NBA 75th Anniversary Team members Oscar Robertson and Dwyane Wade.

In addition to an 8.3-point increase in scoring and 4.3 percent improvement in field goal percentage from the 2020-21 season, Morant established career-high averages in minutes, rebounds, steals (1.16 spg), free throws made (5.5), free throws attempted (7.3) and three-pointers made (1.5). He also recorded a career high in three-point field goal percentage (34.4).

Behind Morant, the Grizzlies (56-26) finished with the second-best record in the NBA, matched the franchise’s single-season record for victories and secured their highest playoff seed ever (No. 2 in the Western Conference). Morant was one of three Memphis players to earn votes for the Kia NBA Most Improved Player Award, along with guard Desmond Bane (who finished in fifth place) and forward-center Jaren Jackson Jr. (who received one second-place vote).

Morant, the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year, was selected by the Grizzlies with the second overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He entered the 2021-22 season with career averages of 18.4 points, 7.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds across his first two seasons.

Garland and Murray had great cases to win the award, but it’s hard to argue with Morant getting the award.

The voting results for the 2021-22 NBA Most Improved Player Award are below. The balloting was tabulated by the independent accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP. Complete ballots for each voter will be posted at PR.NBA.com after the announcement of all end-of-season awards.

Suns’ Paul on win over Pelicans: ‘We knew it was going to be by committee’

If he did it before, he could do it again, and the “Point God” continued his fourth-quarter greatness in the Suns’ first-round series against the Pelicans.

As he did in Game 1, Paul scored 19 points of his 28 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns, who were without Devin Booker(hamstring), defeated the Pelicans 114-111 at Smoothie King Center to take a 2-1 series lead.

Paul finished with 28 points, four rebounds, 14 assists, and zero turnovers. Deandre Ayton added a career-high 28 points to go along with 17 rebounds. Ayton scored 28 points in three quarters, but he was scoreless in the fourth.

However, Paul brought it home.

“DA kept us in this game in order to bring it home down the stretch,” Paul said after the win.

In Game 1, Paul had 19 of his 30 points in the fourth. They needed his greatness in Game 1, and without Booker, they needed it even more in Game 3.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Paul is the second player to score 19-plus points in the fourth quarter twice in a single series over the last 25 postseasons. In addition, according to Stathead, Paul became the first player since 1984 to have 28-plus points and 14-plus assists without a turnover.

“He(Paul) reads a play, and the defense will switch, and he’s always analyzing,” JaVale McGee, who also came up big and added 15 points, said. “He’s listening to calls that other players are calling.”

Phoenix had five players in double figures, so they won it as a team.

“We knew it was going to be by committee,” Paul said. “When you come into this arena, we knew it would be tough, but everybody just pitched in tonight.”

At this point, according to reports, Booker could be out 2-3 weeks, so Phoenix needs to get by the Pelicans as soon as possible, but as Paul said, the Suns have to do it by committee. 

Game 4 is Sunday night in New Orleans.

Suns will have to play ‘extra games’ to defeat New Orleans

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker has sustained a mild right hamstring strain, the team announced Wednesday.

According to the team, an MRI revealed the injury, and there is no timetable for his return.

According to ESPN Adrian Wojnarowski, Booker is expected to miss Games 3 and 4 but could return later in this series.

The injury occurred in the third quarter of Phoenix’s 125-114 loss to the Pelicans in Game 2 of their first-round series. Booker scored all 31 points, including seven threes, in the first half. 

New Orleans led Phoenix 77-74 with 4:35 left in the third when Booker exited with the injury. The Pelicans would outscore the Suns 48-40 the rest of the way and would win 125-114.

The series is tied at 1, and Game 2 is Friday night in New Orleans.

Booker missed seven games with a strained left hamstring injury during the regular season. Phoenix was 8-6 without Booker this season.

Hamstrings can be tricky, but hopefully, this is not an injury that will keep Booker out for an extended period. Phoenix’s only goal is a championship. They went to the NBA Finals last season and have the best record in basketball this season, so anything short of a title would be a disappointment. 

Here’s also the issue, you can’t play “extra games” in the playoffs, and now the Suns will be playing at least an extra game and possibly more in this series. 

It’s next man up for the Suns, so guys like Landry Shamet and Cam Johnson have to step up. New Orleans has the momentum, but Phoenix is still the better team, even without Booker.

However, winning this series has just gotten a little complicated for the Suns, but just like they have all season long, expect the Suns to play well without Booker.

Notes:

Chris Paul had his second consecutive double-double in this series as he finished with 17 points and 14 assists Tuesday night.