Every time we think we've seen the new low of the Luka Doncic-Kyrie Irving era for the Dallas Mavericks, it gets worse. A blown 27-point lead to the Lakers? A free basket to the Warriors when they incorrectly believed that they should have had the ball? Nothing compared to Friday's loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the fourth-worst team in the NBA on the second night of a back-to-back in a must-win game.
Things got so bad for the Mavericks that they were booed by their own fans. Coach Jason Kidd couldn't argue. "We probably should have been booed in the first quarter," Kidd said after the game. Irving took a different approach. "I've been in New York City, so I know what that's like," Irving said. "You obviously want to play well, but it's only five people on the court that can play for the Dallas Mavericks. If the fans wanna change places, then hey, be my guest. Got years of work ahead to be great enough to be on this level."
Irving is, notably, set to become a free agent this offseason, and while it's unclear what sort of market he'll have considering the plethora of controversies that seem to follow him wherever he goes, his frustrations are surely distressing to a Mavericks team that has no realistic way of replacing his talent on the court if he walks. His issues aren't limited to the fans, either. As he made clear, the new-look Mavericks are still learning how they fit together.
"And we're still feeling each other out in a way of getting used to each other's efforts and attitudes and temperament," Irving said. "And that's a real thing. That's a human thing. That's a human element. Whether people believe it in basketball or not, there's a very fine line between winning basketball games and everyone being on the same page and losing basketball games and things splintering and pointing fingers."
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The 36-38 Mavericks have fallen to the No. 11 seed in the Western Conference. They are 7-12 since trading for Irving and 3-7 with both Irving and Doncic on the floor. They have the NBA's seventh-easiest schedule the rest of the way, but losing at home to Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back suggests that this team is capable of falling to just about any opponent, especially with both Irving and Doncic dealing with nagging injuries.
If there's a silver lining to be found here, it's that the Mavericks can keep their first-round pick this season if it lands in the top 10. That would still be a relatively meager consolation prize considering the expectations this team had. Dallas made the Western Conference finals last season. When they added Irving, they likely expected to seriously contend for the 2023 championship. They can still right the ship this offseason if Irving re-signs. If nothing else, it's hard to imagine things getting much worse.