After the Dallas Mavericks defeated the much-vaunted Golden State Warriors and much-loved Chicago Bulls in the span of five days, Luka Doncic noticed something he wanted to highlight.
“I think we can play with anyone,” said the two-time Mavs all-star point guard. “When we play together, we play well.”
And the Mavs have been exceptionally good against the Warriors and Bulls.
The Warriors came to the American Airlines Center last Wednesday with the best NBA record. They left town with a 99-82 loss in their baggage, and the 82 points were the least the Warriors have scored in a game this season.
Four days later, the Bulls arrived at AAC with the best Eastern Conference record and an impressive nine-game winning streak. As the Bulls left Dallas, they were looking to start a new winning streak as they suffered a 113-99 loss to the Mavs.
In short, the Mavs have proven they can play – and beat – the greats, despite domestic media attention.
“I think the combined effort has been really, really strong here lately,” said interim head coach Sean Sweeney. “The other thing that we do a really good job on is figuring out what the plan is.
“And then if there’s not something that we’ve prepared ourselves for, (we) cover each other up when necessary. I think the guys do a really good job in that regard, then they do a great job of communicating with what they see on the pitch to help us as coaches as we move into the game. These are the things that really stand out about these guys. ”
What also stands out is that the Mavs are progressing steadily in the Western Conference standings. They are now 22-18 overall and a fifth in the West heading into Wednesday’s game at 6:30 p.m. against the New York Knicks (20-21).
To be frank, the Mavs have been a very effective defensive team because they bought everything that head coach Jason Kidd sells.
“It’s a bit of everything,” said guard Jalen Brunson. “Like I said, the coaching staff put us in a position to be successful.
“The guys really just bought. It was a fun thing to be a part of.”
What has been equally impressive is that the Mavs have won lately without their second best player, Kristaps Porzingis. The 7-3 forward has missed the last five games, including the last four while on health and safety protocols.
“Obviously we are still missing KP,” said forward Maxi Kleber, who scored a career-high 18 points tying six to three points in the victory over the Bulls. “He’s an integral part of our team, but we finally had the time to play together. Everyone is sort of back.
“We haven’t trained a lot yet, but that’s what we can be and that’s what we need to work on. I think the last two games have really shown that we’ve made a big improvement defensively, but we have to keep going because even when our shot doesn’t fall we’re still good on defense.
Second-year forward Josh Green gave the Mavs a proverbial burst of energy off the bench. He scored a career-high 17 points in the 130-106 win at Houston last Friday and then did better against the Bulls when he scored a career-high 18 points on 8 of 10 shots.
From her perspective, Green explained that the key to her success is simply to stay prepared.
“I think my whole mentality is right when my name is called on, make sure I’m ready to give the team what they need,” he said. “I feel like I was able to find a rhythm and I’m trying to build on that and continue to grow as a player.”
And as Green grows as a player, the Mavs collectively grow as a team. And that has been a constant process under Kidd, who is in his first year as coach of the team.
“It was a daily one step at a time mentality,” Brunson said. “We approach every game the same – like it’s the last and like it really means something.
“Our chemistry on the pitch is much better. The coaches prepare us for success and we execute the game plan. “
All of that has totaled seven wins for the Mavs in their last eight games, not to mention a ton of confidence that comes with that type of success.
“We have guys who sacrifice a lot on the defensive end, but most of all, we play defense for the team,” Doncic said. “Everyone is important, the five players on the pitch.
“And that’s our point. We play the defense of the team.
Brunson anticipates the good times to keep riding for the Mavs when they play the Knicks in the Big Apple,
“I don’t think we’re going to drop this anytime soon,” he said. “We just have to keep going, keep having fun and keep focusing on defense.
“As long as we focus on defense and the little things the offense will be there for us. We have a lot of guys who can score a lot anytime. As long as we focus on the defensive side of the ball we’ll be in. form.