1 thought after the Mavericks’ disappointing 113-111 loss to the Pelicans

The Dallas Mavericks lost a close game 113-111 to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night in New Orleans, even though the Pelicans lost three starting players.

New Orleans was without its best players, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, while also missing the best winger in Herb Jones. Even without those losses, the Pelicans took them to a relatively healthy Mavericks, though the Mavericks were missing Tim Hardaway Jr. with foot pain.

Dallas dug itself in an early hole and never recovered. The Pelicans dropped 40 points in the first quarter, forcing the Mavericks to play the rest of the game uphill. Thanks to the Mavericks, they did their job together on the defensive end in the second and third quarters, giving them a lead in the fourth. But the Pelicans kept coming, the Mavericks attack dried up, and Luka Doncic lost three potential targets as time ran out.

Doncic led all scorers with 37 points, in addition to 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Pelicans were well-balanced throughout the lineup, with Trey Murphy leading them with 22 points in a perfect 8-of-8 shot.

This is the only thing I noticed:

The Mavericks formula looks cool until it doesn’t

Dallas has a simple formula that has worked well since the drafting of Luka Doncic – surround him with shooters, at least one more ball handler, and an edge that works great, and you’ll get results. The Mavericks have recorded a better win percentage in every successive season since Doncic was drafted by leaning hard on this formula. There is no denying its success, especially after the Mavericks Western Conference Finals held earlier in the year.

[Stephen A. Smith voice] Howeverwhen the formula does not work, it truly does not work. Dallas created a list for Doncic to amplify and enhance, but not the other way around. Doncic has been third in usage since its second season in the league and currently leads the league with an usage rate of 39.3. Doncic usage has increased each season along with the gains, which makes sense, doesn’t it? Give one of the best basketball players on the planet the ball more and more good things must happen. But basketball is ultimately a team game, and while Doncic can dominate it as an individual, the formula devised by the Mavericks can break from time to time.

The Mavericks as created currently have three players who can find their way to a good shot on their own, these three are Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddy and Christian Wood. Those three scored 37, 24 and 23 points respectively against the Pelicans – no one else in the Mavericks scored more than eight. Meanwhile, the Pelicans, without three players, had eight players to score in double digits, with five scoring 13 or more. Dorian Finney Smith, Maxi Clipper, Reggie Bullock, Gavel McGee, Josh Green are good players in their own right and some of them have helped the Mavericks win many games, but they are not dynamic players. They have certain roles and jobs that they do and they do well, but if the team takes a part in what they do, there won’t be much to contend with. Kleber and Vinnie Smith have been playing open threes for enough time now that the teams know what they can do. They also know what they can’t do. Through three games, I felt the Mavericks innings players have less space than three, as defenses stay home and live with Doncic walking over the edge. So far, with the Mavericks 1-2, this strategy through opposing teams seems to be working. Because if Finney-Smith, Maxi or Reggie don’t have three players open to shoot, what is the counter? Pass it until you find the same ball for one of the three scorers mentioned, usually the answer. In the two fourth quarters Doncic has played so far this season, his effective field goal percentage (eFG%) has been just 36.4.

Teams are only hoping that Doncic can exhaust himself by doing it all in three quarters and watching his teammates just can’t stand the slump when he gets gassed in the middle of the fourth quarter. It happened tonight against the swans. There was possession two minutes earlier in the fourth with the Mavericks losing 111-107, as Doncic joined forces at the top of the key. He passed it to Dinwiddie, who then turned the ball over to Bullock in the corner. The New Orleans cannon closed, but was strong enough to prevent Bullock from shooting three. Bullock took off into open space and awkwardly missed a pontoon from outside the paint, a shot that Bullock never shot. This was exactly what the Pelicans wanted from those defensive possessions.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, you have a team of guys who are a bit more dynamic and can do more on their own. It makes sense, when you consider the pedigree of some pelicans. Trey Murphy was the 17th pick overall in 2021 – he scored 22 points on a perfect 8-of-8 shot, along with five rebounds. Dyson Daniels was the eighth overall pick in the 2022 draft, and he had 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block. Jaxson Hayes didn’t do much tonight, but he’s another top 10 pick. And again, that’s without two more from the first round domestically at Zion Williamson and Herb Jones. The Mavericks have some outstanding players, but they only have players on their roster who have drafted them in the first round. And one of them played only 13 minutes on Tuesday evening, scoring two points.

Again, when the Mavericks formula works, it becomes magical. We saw it on full display in a 41-point win over the Grizzlies. We saw it take place during the Western Conference earlier this year, until the Warriors shut it down. It’s a good formula. Unfortunately, that sometimes leads to frustrating losses, like those of the short-handed Pelicans. Fortunately, Mavericks has 79 other games to play to make this loss a distant memory.

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