Luka Doncic, slumping Mavericks still have time to turn things around, but margin for error is shrinking – CBS Sports

You know that saying about hitting rock bottom, and how once you’ve reached it the only way to go is up? Well, the Dallas Mavericks are hanging out on the ocean floor right now as a six-game losing streak has pushed them further out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.

The latest loss — a one-point gut punch at the hands of a Devin Booker 3-pointer in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to give the Phoenix Suns a three-game season sweep of the Mavericks — was the most recent setback for a team that has fallen well short of expectations with a quarter of the season in the books as its margin for error further shrinks. 

Over the course of the losing streak, lack of energy has been the overarching reason given by the players and coaches for why the team is struggling. With franchise centerpiece Luka Doncic saying at one point “right now, it’s looking like we don’t care, honestly, if we win games or not.” Harsh — but true — words from the team’s young superstar. A 19-point loss at the hands of the Jazz in the second game of a two-game series with Utah exemplified that.

As grim as it looks sitting at 8-13 and 13th in the West entering Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, there’s reason to believe the Mavs can still get back on track. For starters, Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns marked the first time Dallas had its entire roster available in 425 days; it last accomplished that feat on Dec. 4, 2019. The Mavericks have been one of the hardest-hit teams following a COVID-19 outbreak, causing five players to be sidelined for a total of three weeks, all of which are regular rotation players. 

That might sound like an excuse, given that several teams across the league have had to weather similar COVID-19 storms — the Miami Heat, in a similar situation, are just 7-13 after winning the East — but Dallas not having a big portion of its roster for a significant amount of time stifles any continuity or chemistry this team may have otherwise built had it not been interrupted by the virus. 

There have been four Mavericks players who have started in every game they’ve played in this season — Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Richardson. However, that group has only played three games together for a total of 44 minutes. Pretty difficult to get a feel for each other on the floor when key players like that have been out for different stretches of time.

Lack of chemistry on the floor can result in lapses on both ends, which could become incredibly costly. One example is Richardson not fighting hard enough to get around a screen to prevent Porzingis from having to check Booker on the wing during a pivotal possession:

This doesn’t mean that the Mavericks are absent of any issues outside of health and chemistry, though. They rank near the bottom of the league in several statistical categories, and have taken a step back significantly in their spot-up shooting.

3-Point Percentage






Offensive Rating



Defensive Rating



Assist Percentage



Opponent Second-Chance Points



A season ago, the Mavericks were the fourth-best team in the league at connecting on spot-up jumpers, generating 1.061 points per possession, per Synergy Sports Technology. This year, they rank No. 27 in the same category. Some of that has to do with a change in personnel in the offseason, as Dallas swapped sharpshooter Seth Curry for Richardson’s two-way capabilities. Curry is a plug-and-play guy, someone who can excel in any environment due to his shooting ability. Curry knocked down several big shots for Dallas last season off drive-and-kicks from Doncic for an open look.

Richardson, though, isn’t having the same success. He’s shooting a career low from deep (28.6 percent), with many of his misses coming on wide-open attempts. Perhaps he’s not used to the amount of space he’s given to get his shot off, considering last season with Philadelphia only 17 percent of his 3s were open looks, compared to 25 percent this season. It’s fair to say he’s still feeling out his teammates, plus he’s not the only player struggling from deep. 

Finney-Smith has seen a regression back to what he typically shoots from beyond the arc (32.2 percent), after shooting a career-high 37.6 percent from 3-point territory a season ago. Porzingis, who despite having played in 10 games so far this season, has yet to find his touch from deep. He’s clanking shots off the front of the rim consistently, an indicator that he’s still struggling to get his legs under him. 

Then there’s Doncic, who, despite his stellar numbers across the board (27.3 points, 9.4 assists, 9.0 rebounds), is shooting just 29.3 percent from beyond the arc on seven attempts per game. There are 28 guys in the league who attempt seven or more 3s a game, Doncic ranks dead-last among them in shooting percentage.

The lid can’t stay on the basket forever, though. At some point, Doncic and the Mavericks are bound to start knocking down shots. It’s not as though guys aren’t putting up good shots — 19 percent of their 3-point attempts are coming on wide-open looks. They simply aren’t making them. Doncic is putting his teammates in a great position to put points on the board, considering he ranks second in the league in potential assists (17.8), sandwiched right in between James Harden and Chris Paul, and third in the league in assist points created (23.5). If teammates started making just a half of the shots created off Doncic’s passes, Dallas would be in a far better position.

If there is one moral victory to be had in Dallas’ current slump, it’s that four of its six losses have been decided by six or fewer points. It would be a different story if the Mavs were getting blown out in each of those losses, but they’re staying in games — sometimes leading in them — but haven’t been able to put four solid quarters together.

Dallas isn’t exempt from criticism, especially considering the amount of preseason hype that surrounded the team — with many people predicting this team would finish in the top five in the West. But there’s still time to rack up wins and get back in the playoff picture before rash decisions are made. However, now is the time for the Mavs to start collecting wins. The next month of their schedule consists of opponents that have a combined 119-127 record (.483 win percentage). If they don’t capitalize on that, then their chances of making the playoffs will be severely diminished, and we can start having the conversation about who needs to be traded to improve this team.