June 18, 2021

Spurs, Mavericks tip off second half of season

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Another scintillating week of live basketball tips off on Wednesday night as the San Antonio Spurs visit the Dallas Mavericks to kickstart the second half of the season. Let’s take a look at how the Texas rivals are faring so far.

Live NBA: San Antonio @ Dallas 10.03

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Dallas Mavericks, 18-16 (8th in West)

The Mavericks, for their part, have underwhelmed this season and are currently sitting at eighth in the Western Conference – safe for a spot in the new play-in tournament as things stand. However, there are five competitive teams around them, all within three wins, fighting for just four spots. Things could easily go south.

On a positive note, they were one of the form teams in the NBA at the halfway point, winning eight of their last 10 games before the All-Star mini-break and carrying a three-game streak into this fixture against the Spurs. Prior to that run, the Mavs playoff hopes had been dented by six straight losses. That just shows how quickly things can turn around in this league.

Luka Doncic top-scored with 33 points as Dallas beat Orlando in the NBA. 1:51
Luka Doncic top-scored with 33 points as Dallas beat Orlando in the NBA

After a shaky start to the season in terms of his shooting percentage from deep, Luka Doncic has regained his eye to the tune of 50 per cent on threes during the last seven games, along with averaging 32 points, seven rebounds and eight assists during that stretch.

It’s no coincidence that Luka finding his stroke has led to the Mavericks’ best spell of the season, featuring impressive wins against Brooklyn and Boston. His 46-point career-high demolition of the New Orleans Pelicans once again demonstrated how he could singlehandedly dismantle a professional basketball team, but his team-mate Kristaps Porzingis’ 36-point contribution shouldn’t be dismissed.

Dallas Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis works around Oklahoma City Thunder center Mike Muscala 1:00
Highlights of the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Dallas Mavericks in Week 11 of the NBA

Porzingis’ form (and availability) has been patchy at best since his trade from the New York Knicks in January 2019 and more consistency from him will likely be the key to the Mavericks moving forward.

Dallas’ final game before the break was an 87-78 win over Oklahoma City without their star point guard, who ‘rested his sore back’. That’s code for ‘having a little rest before the All-Star Game’. Porzingis led the Mavericks in his place with 19 points and 13 rebounds and more of that will be required in a busy second half of the season.

It’s unlikely Dallas have enough to climb out of the four play-in tournament spots (7-10 seeds) given that the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets lie ahead in fifth and sixth respectively.

But, as this season has shown, all it takes is a couple of injuries to derail a team. They’ll want to keep the door ajar just in case, starting with a win over Texas conference rivals the Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs, 18-14 (7th in West)

The Spurs meanwhile sit seventh in the West, one place above Dallas and with two fewer games played. If there’s a word to sum-up San Antonio this year it’s “steady”, which is probably how you would sum up San Antonio under Gregg Popovich in just about every other year since time began too.

That is despite enduring some of the worst luck in the league so far this season, such as injuries and personal issues that forced LaMarcus Aldridge, Derrick White and DeMar DeRozan to miss multiple games. There also was a stretch without five key players because of COVID issues that forced the Spurs to play short-handed in the final two weeks before the All-Star break.

AP - San Antonio Spurs forward Drew Eubanks (14) drives to the basket against New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30 1:34
Highlights of the New York Knicks against the San Antonio Spurs in Week 11 of the NBA

It culminated in their last game, a 107-102 home loss to the Thunder, in which the Spurs committed 19 turnovers – almost double their season average.

“It finally caught up to us – the injuries and the COVID in this first half of this season,” Popovich said after the loss. “I think these guys have done a tremendous job. I’m really proud of them.

“We’re hopeful we can get everybody back so we can be a little bit deeper, a little fresher.”

Ably led by DeRozan, averaging 20 points, five rebounds and a career-high seven assists per game, the Spurs have no real grand ambitions for this season other than continuing to develop their promising young core.

San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors 2:47
Mo Mooncey believes the roster for the All-Star game should be increased from 12 to 15 due to the expanded size of the league and improved level of the players

In point guard Dejounte Murray (24 years old), shooting guard Lonnie Walker (22) and small forward Keldon Johnson (21), the franchise has three valuable two-way contributors all picked up low down the first round of their respective drafts.

Murray and Johnson were both taken with the 29th pick, while Walker was snapped up at 18 in the 2018 draft. It’s a testament to the organisation’s culture and infrastructure, as well as Popovich’s coaching and attention to player development, that each has become a vital component of a Spurs roster punching above their weight in the West.

At some point the plan for the franchise will be to move on from the veterans DeRozan, Aldridge, Mills and Gay to focus entirely on those three players. That being said, one year of playoff experience with the old heads alongside them – particularly DeRozan and Mills – could prove invaluable to both the Spurs’ future and their own.