Luka Doncic Brilliant, but Mavericks Fall to Balanced Spurs

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJanuary 17, 2019

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 16: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles down court against the Dallas Mavericks on January 16, 2019 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Marco Belinelli scored 17 points off the bench and DeMar DeRozan added 14 points and nine assists as the San Antonio Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks 105-101 Wednesday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Six Spurs scored at least 12 points.

Luka Doncic had 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the 20-24 Mavs, who have gone 5-13 after a 15-11 start. The 26-20 Spurs broke a two-game losing streak.

      

No Need for Spurs to Push Panic Button Yet

The Spurs had gone through a bit of a rough patch of late, with three losses in their last four games leading into Wednesday. Their defense has not fared well, which was a common theme during the team's 11-14 start. DeRozan also struggled, scoring just 14.3 points on 35.2 percent shooting.

But that stretch was washed away on Wednesday, as the Spurs overcame a 15-point deficit after the first quarter to win by four. That alone is cause for optimism down the stretch, but the Spurs have a few others in their back pocket as well.

First, the Spurs are still in the playoff picture. The margin of error is razor-thin right now, with six teams in the Western Conference between fifth and 10th place (having between 19 and 21 losses). However, San Antonio is in the top eight with 36 more games to improve their sixth-place standing.

Second, the Spurs have some games up ahead where they should be clear favorites. Two games each against the 10-33 New York Knicks, 9-35 Cleveland Cavaliers, the 18-26 Washington Wizards and the 14-30 Atlanta Hawks should help San Antonio shoot up the standings.

Third, they've been without Rudy Gay for five straight games. The 12-year veteran returned to the starting lineup Wednesday, though, and dropped 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting in just 22 minutes. Gay should provide more minutes as he returns to form off his absence.

Fourth, the Spurs bench can take over games. Having Gay back in the lineup only strengthens the Spurs' depth. That was shown on Wednesday, as the reserves scored 51 points and knocked down 11 of 23 shots from beyond the arc.

Last, the Spurs have head coach Gregg Popovich, who has made the playoffs each year from 1998 to 2018. The five-time NBA champion is one of the game's all-time greats and arguably the best leader in today's game.

Ultimately, the Spurs should be making a return back to the playoffs for Pop's 22nd straight season. It wouldn't be surprising to see them make a deep run either.

      

Luka Doncic Deserves to Be an All-Star

Despite the loss, Doncic put forth yet another impressive performance during his current hot streak.

Over his last five games, the 19-year-old has averaged 27.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists. One has to wonder if numbers like that will soon become a nightly norm for the ex-Real Madrid star, who once again showcased why he deserves to be an All-Star on Wednesday.

He displayed excellent court vision, like when he drove through the lane and whipped a pass to Dirk Nowitzki for a corner three-pointer:

He proved his remarkable range, like on this deep three off an inbounds pass:

He's also fearless in the lane, like when he drove into the paint, moved past Spurs center Pau Gasol and threw down a slam:

Of course, three highlights alone don't prove why, but plays like those have become commonplace for the point forward, who is ranked second among Western Conference frontcourt players on the All-Star fan ballot.

One can say that vote is a popularity contest, but let's break down the lists from the Western Conference for a second:

The following frontcourt players deserve to make the game above Doncic: LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Paul George, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant.

With all due respect to everyone else in the top 10, Doncic deserves the sixth spot. Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma scores points in bunches, but Doncic has a better all-around game. Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green can do a little bit of everything, but so can Doncic to a lesser extent. Plus, the latter player is a much better scorer.

The best case to usurp Doncic lies in Steven Adams, who is enjoying an efficient and excellent individual season.

In that case, the edge goes to Doncic for his impact on the team. The 2017-18 Mavericks did not win their 20th game of the season until March 6. The 2018-19 Mavs accomplished that feat on January 11.

If you threw Doncic on the backcourt list, where would he land? The argument here is fifth, maybe sixth at worst. James Harden is the NBA's likely MVP, so he's a lock. Stephen Curry is one of the top two players on the league's best team, Russell Westbrook is a triple-double machine and Damian Lillard can effortlessly drop 40-plus points on a given night.

But after that quartet? It might be Doncic. Right now, Doncic looks like he's almost as good of a scorer as DeMar DeRozan and arguably a better playmaker. Klay Thompson, while normally a sharpshooter, went through a long slump. Lonzo Ball has been inconsistent on an up-and-down Lakers team. Derrick Rose, who is enjoying an excellent comeback season, is likely there because of his popularity. Chris Paul has been hurt, and Devin Booker, while solid, plays for the Western Conference's worst team.

In sum, Doncic looks like he's just outside the top 10 in the Western Conference right now. And that may be good enough for him to sneak in as a reserve based on the new rules, per an NBA.com article explaining them in 2018: "The 14 reserves were chosen by the NBA's 30 head coaches. The coaches voted for seven players in their respective conferences—two guards, three frontcourt players and two additional players at either position group. They were not permitted to vote for players from their own team."

Each conference gets five starters and seven reserves, so Doncic can get in through the back door. He may be a rookie, but Doncic deserves his shot.

                                    

What's Next?

The Spurs travel north to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday at 8 p.m. ET. Dallas will hit the road for a Saturday matchup versus the Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m.

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