When you're a team fighting for postseason positioning in the final weeks of the season, one thing you don't want to do is lose to a team that is already resigned to a lottery landing. But, that's exactly what the Dallas Mavericks did twice this weekend, as they dropped consecutive games to the Charlotte Hornets, who have the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
With their playoff lives hanging in the balance, the Mavericks lost to the Hornets 117-109 on Friday night, and then they followed that up with a 110-104 matinee loss to Charlotte on Sunday. The Mavs have now lost four straight games, and they sit on the outside of the playoff picture looking in -- 11th in the Western Conference with a 36-39 overall record.
To make matters worse, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic received his 16th technical foul on the season on Sunday, which means that he's in line for an automatic one-game suspension, which he will serve against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. Without Doncic's services in Indiana, the Mavs are in danger of dropping a fifth straight game and fading even further out of the playoff picture. In such a situation you'd like to say that the Mavs can rely on the recently acquired Kyrie Irving to carry the load, but he hasn't shown an ability to lead a team without another superstar by his side.
Luka Dončić got his 16th technical foul of the season, resulting in a one-game suspension. pic.twitter.com/K3X0Np47dA— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 26, 2023
Given the stakes, Doncic simply needs to be smarter and more mature. His team can't afford for him to miss games at this point in the season, and he needs to understand that. Unfortunately for Dallas, maturity is an area of his game that still needs development, along with defense.
The Mavs still have seven remaining games to at least try to make it into the playoffs, so it's a bit premature to write a eulogy on their season. But make no mistake, if they do end up landing in the lottery, there will be plenty of blame to go around.
The front office will have to be held accountable for failing to build a formidable team around Doncic, and for allowing Jalen Brunson to walk in free agency last summer after all the potential he flashed in a Mavs uniform. Similarly, Jason Kidd will have to answer for the team's woes, especially on the defensive end, where they rank in the bottom third of the league. Kidd's lack of urgency is also somewhat alarming. Earlier this month, Kidd gave an interesting answer when asked about his level of concern regarding the team's troubles.
"There has to be concern (if the Mavericks miss the playoffs)," Kidd said. "Just understand, our health, this is what we have. This is the cards we're dealt just like anyone else in this league. We gotta play with the cards that we have...Just understand we're getting better, it's just a matter of can we be healthy in time to make a stretch run. And if we're not, that's just the season. No one's dying."
He's right, no one is dying, and it's always important to keep things in perspective. But at the same time, that's not necessarily what you want to hear from the coach of a struggling squad. Kidd led the Mavs to the Western Conference finals last season, but that certainly doesn't mean that he's beyond reproach.
Next up is the players. Doncic is a generational offensive talent, but his extreme ball-dominance doesn't make it easy for other stars to flourish alongside him. Plus, there's the lack of defense and maturity, as touched on above. Moving forward, Doncic needs to commit to being better on the defensive end. Doing so can only have a positive impact on the team. Plus, he needs to stop being so concerned with the referees. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a player complain about calls quite as consistently as Doncic.
Doncic recently revealed that he's dealing with issues away from the court that appear to be sapping some of the joy from his game, so perhaps that has had a negative impact on the team.
"I think you can see it with me on the court," Doncic said after Dallas' loss to Charlotte on Friday night. "Sometimes I don't feel it's me. I'm just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on the court, but it's just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball."
Hopefully Doncic can get his issues ironed out, because he's certainly one of the most entertaining talents in the entire league when he's at the peak of his powers.
Then, there's Irving. Dallas is 7-13 (6-9 when he plays) since acquiring the mercurial guard, and the Mavs have dropped from fifth to 11th in the West during that time. It's been a less-than-ideal start to Irving's Dallas tenure, which makes you wonder if he's a long-term fit with the franchise. After all, he's slated to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. It would be a pretty tough blow for Dallas if they lose Irving for nothing after giving up several assets to acquire him.
However, the Mavs will also have to ask themselves if they really want to keep Irving around. Quite frankly, the juice really hasn't been worth the squeeze when it comes to Irving ever since he left Cleveland. He's proven to be a self-centered distraction, and his presence hasn't led to winning at the highest-level since he played alongside LeBron James.
With a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season, the Mavs still have an opportunity to right the ship and extend their season. But if they're unable to, there will be some real soul-searching in Dallas over the offseason.