Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
The San Antonio Spurs walked away from Tuesday night’s game at American Airlines Center in Dallas with a 112-105 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
With 14 games left in the regular season, the Spurs are jockeying to remain in the Western Conference playoff picture. San Antonio has made the postseason every year under head coach Gregg Popovich since the 1997-98 season.
While historical precedent follows the Spurs, Dallas is a franchise dead set on the future. That fact made it all the more surprising that rookie forward Luka Doncic played against the Spurs following a knee strain suffered on Sunday.
Doncic started the game and appeared for 34 minutes in total. He struggled mightily, turning the ball over nine times while only scoring 12 points. The 20-year-old was held scoreless until 59.1 seconds remained in the first half. However, he did contribute seven assists, six rebounds and two blocks.
Fellow Mavericks rookie Jalen Brunson led all scorers with 34 points. Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan was right behind Brunson with 33 points. Center LaMarcus Aldridge also scored 28 points for the Spurs.
Luka Doncic’s Struggles Prove Mavs Can’t Win Without Him at His Best
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Doncic has not given critics much material to work with throughout his stellar rookie season. That said, Tuesday night may have been his worst performance so far in the NBA. Doncic was a meek 1-of-9 from the free throw line and 1-of-7 from three-point land. Overall, he shot just 27.8 percent from the field.
This singular poor performance can be attributed at the very least in part to the status of Doncic’s knee. The turnovers have been a pattern and the one major qualm with his game. To be fair, with all of the offensive responsibilities Doncic juggles for the team, he has more opportunity to turn the ball over.
Doncic is averaging the 12th-most turnovers per game in the NBA this season, but some of the league’s biggest stars are ahead of him. The reigning MVP leads the league with 5.2 turnovers per game. In other words, if turning the ball over is his the biggest flaw, take it in stride.
The probable NBA Rookie of the Year still made history on Tuesday night, per Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, even if it’s not the kind of history the Mavericks have quickly become accustomed to expect from him.
The good news is that the worst performance of his career came in a meaningless game during his rookie season. Mike Leslie of WFAA in Dallas put it in perspective:
Mike Leslie @MikeLeslieWFAA
Obviously you don’t like the boatload of turnovers and missed free throws. But #Mavs fans have to be encouraged by the raw fire in Doncic right now, in a largely meaningless game in mid-March of his rookie year. Extrapolate that to a playoff game. Dude is gonna be a killer.
Without Doncic playing at his best, the Mavericks look more the part of a cellar-dweller than an emerging young contender—even with a 34-point game from second-round pick and point guard Brunson. In less than one full season, it has already been established that Dallas goes as Doncic goes.
Dallas Mavericks All-Star center Kristaps Porzingis was courtside for the Mavericks’ loss on Tuesday night and explained on the TNT broadcast why there is reason for optimism.
In part, the former No. 4 overall pick, whom the Mavericks acquired in a trade on Jan. 31, said: “There’s a culture. You could feel that. Guys like Dirk [Nowitzk], like J.J. [Barea], they’ve built that culture, and they’re a really important part of this organization.”
NBA on TNT @NBAonTNT
“I just can’t wait.”
@kporzee gives @realtuffjuice an update on his recovery and shares what he believes makes the @dallasmavs’ culture so special.
#MFFL | #PlayersOnly https://t.co/F1w0E7APwY
While Nowitzki and Barea will always be remembered fondly in Mavericks history for helping to secure the franchise’s only championship in the 2010-11 season, any future rings Dallas wins will have to be because of Doncic and Porzingis.
As his rookie season winds down, with the Mavericks out of playoff contention, Doncic should be encouraged to take his lumps and learn from them—so long as his knee injury doesn’t become more serious—ahead of the Doncic-Porzingis era.
San Antonio (39-29) has a nice break before hosting the New York Knicks on Friday night, while Dallas (27-40) will travel to Denver for a game against the Nuggets on Thursday.