The absence of its two leading scorers would greatly impact any NBA team. It's especially noticeable when one of those players is named Luka Doncic.
Doncic sustained a left ankle sprain Thursday three minutes into the Dallas Mavericks' game against Phoenix. The Mavs were able to pull out a four-point win over the Suns but then struggled without him Saturday in a 108-100 loss to Utah.
The Mavericks host the downtrodden Detroit Pistons on Monday with Doncic likely to sit out. They're also operating without big man Christian Wood, who is recovering from thumb surgery.
Dallas is 0-6 without Doncic in the starting lineup.
"He's an MVP," guard Spencer Dinwiddie said of Doncic. "We're not going to be better without him. That's not how the game works, you know what I mean? But we understand our roles. We understand what we have to do."
Dinwiddie has taken over the role of primary offensive threat with Doncic and Wood sidelined. He's averaged 35.5 points and 8.5 assists in the last two games.
"You can't change everything," Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. "You're going to try to put these guys in a position to be successful. Spencer has taken that challenge. You saw that in the Phoenix game. He's not a rookie, so he understands what it means to be a leader."
That wasn't enough against the Jazz, who led by 18 points at halftime. Dallas outscored Utah 28-18 in the third quarter but couldn't complete the rally.
The Mavericks managed just 43.8-percent shooting and were outscored 48-28 in the paint. They also couldn't get to the foul line often, as Dinwiddie attempted 10 of their 17 free throws.
Detroit won the first meeting between the teams on Dec. 1, pulling out a 131-125 overtime victory. Doncic and Wood combined for 60 points but the Pistons had six players in double figures. Bojan Bogdanovic led the way with 30 points and Killian Hayes contributed 22 points and eight assists.
Yet Detroit has now dropped eight of its past 10, including a 117-114 home decision Saturday night to the Western Conference's worst team, Houston.
Coming off a victory in Brooklyn, the Pistons led by three in the final minute but were outscored 8-2 in the last 35 seconds, partly due to giving up a putback after a missed Rockets free throw.
"Since junior high school, coaches tell you to box out and on a free throw, box out," coach Dwane Casey said. "That's when you've got to be very intentional in terms of your box out, almost have to faceguard because you know they're going to be crashing with a bad free throw shooter at the free-throw line."
Detroit led by 10 after the first quarter on Saturday but gave away the lead by halftime, leaving Casey disappointed the Pistons couldn't build on the win over the Nets.
"We're not in a position to disregard anyone, or to come out and play loose and not play to our identity the way we did a couple of nights ago," he said. "That's the most frustrating part."
--Field Level Media
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