The first opening night that I can remember where he wasn’t there. On the first home game of a season, it can be customary for the home team to announce the whole roster. It’s always kinda awkward-but-cool to see the players that aren’t even suited up running through the player tunnel, high-fiving their teammates as we all prepare to finally unwrap the gift of a new NBA season. So many expectations, so many hopes and fears, so many memories. Memories. Memories are a tough pill to swallow for Mavs fans this season. Even though excitement is through the roof – with all the youth, talent and expectations on Dallas this year – it is also the first year where memories are all we have left of a beloved member of our family. Number 41. Memories, a banner, and two beautifully crafted tributes just off to the side of both baskets, are all that remain.
Dallas was blessed to have The Big German here for 21 years. For the organization to be able to spend a rebuilding period by reminiscing and continuing to enjoy a hero that a whole city can rally around makes the rough patches of a rebuild a little bit easier. For a team to be able to spend the first year without that franchise player with two new ones instead, that’s unique. And if the first night of the first year without that transcendent player is a sign of anything to come, Dallas may have something more than unique on its hands – it may have something truly special.
The Mavericks dominated for long stretches of this game. Granted, there were plenty of moments, especially in the beginning, where Dallas looked sluggish. They didn’t do a great job sharing the ball, ending with a total of only 17 assists. There were moments where the offense stood still and Luka had to create magic of his own. There were other moments where the offense stood still and Luka wasn’t on the court, ending in awful looks and long rebounds. Overall though this new look Dallas team looked good throughout the game; Luka played like he may have taken the next step we are all hoping for, the bench unit severely outplayed their counterparts and the defense forced Washington into many uncomfortable shots.
Luka won Dallas this game. There is no doubt about it, as it currently stands this is Luka Doncic’s team. Ending his 9th 30+ point game with 34, Luka took over at many points throughout the contest. He scored the last four points of the first half for Dallas using a go to move of his where he drives-jump stops-pump fakes-then steps through for a layup or gets fouled. He made the first shot uncontested as he sent two defenders into the air with the pump fake, and was fouled on the second one (he made both free throws). Luka is calculated. It’s one of, if not the, most important strengths to his game. He seems to always know all of his options before his defender, and he knows where to put himself so that he can get the exact option he wants. More importantly, though, he knows how to put his defender into uncomfortable positions so that he can capitalize. Sometimes, as Bradley Beal found tonight, that position can be under the skin.
With 1:09 left and the Wizards desperately trying to claw their way back into the game, Bradley Beal was ejected. Luka and Beal had been going back and forth most of the night and after a few possessions, and a tripping call that at first looked like a Luka Doncic crossover turned into a viral tweet to-be, they ended up getting tied up and issued double technicals. Beal didn’t agree with being given a technical so he waved off the ref and as I’m sure he knows now, that isn’t something you can do and still continue to play the game. The interesting part about this little dust up though is as Beal was walking off the court, he stopped and gave Luka some love and the two noticeably exchanged words. After the game, when Skin from the Fox Sports Southwest Broadcast was interviewing Luka, he asked him what Beal had said to him. “It’s just basketball,” he said, and the two told each other good game and went their separate ways. It was a bit of a weird way to close out the game, but it showed the amount of mutual respect the two have for each other. These things aren’t always personal, sometimes it’s just apart of the game. It’s apart of the strategy. It’s just basketball.
A Few Points
Taking the first game of the season and blowing it up under a microscope is a fun, yet overly illogical and irrational, thing to do. Still, this game is all we really have so far and we can only work with what we have. Three things that I was pleasantly surprised about:
- Luka Doncic is ready to be a franchise player for a playoff team. Not everything about his game looked great tonight, but he was able to make adjustments as the game went on and close out in clutch situations. We saw this with him last year, but he seems to have shaken off some of those first year nerves and has a look to him like he’s ready to accept the challenge of leading this team for the next however many years. He didn’t back down from Bradley Beal wanting to shut him down. In fact, he called for the ball. He wants that situation – where it’s all on him and everyone is keying on him. He not only wants it, he thrives off of it. It’s exciting to think about but even more so to watch.
- The Dallas bench looked fantastic. The run they went on in the second quarter, fueled by Justin Jackson, Seth Curry’s seven points in a row and Jalen Brunson, broke the game open from which the Wizards were never able to recover. Both Justin Jackson and Dorian Finney-Smith ended the game with double figures and DFS even played the second most minutes of the game, 32, and had the highest +/- with 18.
- The defense looked good. Though they didn’t, admittedly, look good all of the time. They definitely let their foot off the gas toward the end of the 4th quarter which almost allowed Washington back in the game. Other than that moment and a couple early game blunders, however, the defense looked pretty stout. Maxi Kleber ended with another 3 block game and the perimeter combination of Wright, Doncic and Brunson ended with 5 total steals. They kept Bradley Beal in check all game, forcing him to go 1/11 from 3-pt, and, without Beal, Washington didn’t have much of an answer anywhere else – ultimately going 27% from deep as a team. I know it’s just Washington, but it’s nice to see Dallas able to shut down one of the best players in the league while at the same time not allowing some random role player to step up and beat them.
One thing that worries me:
- Defensive rebounding. Dallas allowed 11 offense rebounds tonight. That’s not going to cut it against upper level teams in the NBA. The Mavericks aren’t playing with one of their better rebounders in Dwight Powell, and Porzingis still looks like he’s getting his legs under him, but still, it’s something to watch for.
Looking forward, the Mavs have a lot to be excited about. Putting this game under a microscope, it looks like a lot of the positives that Mavs fans were anticipating are a real possibility. Luka is ready to take the next step toward being a franchise player, the bench unit looks like one that can not only keep the team in games but can go out and win them as well, and the defense looks strong both inside and out. There are a lot memories to be made with this young team, and a lot of memories to look back on for old fans. There’s a lot to be excited about but also a lot to reminisce as well. When looking back, though, try not to let those memories get you down. That banner will always be there, and soon there will be a statue to go with it. For tonight, though, there is a single W in the win column and for tonight that is all the team needs. It doesn’t need to be over-exaggerated or thought out. It’s not complicated, it’s just basketball.