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Mavs Defensive Struggles Continue in Loss

Sports

The Mavericks struggled on defense in a 130-122 loss to the Hawks | Image by Peachtree Hoops

The Dallas Mavericks fell to the Atlanta Hawks 130-122 on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.

Dallas got 30 points and eight assists from Luka Doncic, but the MVP candidate scored just 11 points after the first quarter. Christian Wood (22 points), Spencer Dinwiddie (20), and Reggie Bullock (18) had good scoring nights, but offense was not the Mavericks’ problem.

Atlanta’s All-Star backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray was too much for the Dallas defense. Murray scored 30, while Young was limited to just 18 points but added 12 assists.

Dallas was within 121-120 with two minutes left when Murray, acquired in the offseason for multiple first-round draft picks, hit a three for a 124-120 lead. 

Young hit the dagger, making a tough floater in the lane to push Atlanta’s lead to six with 41 seconds.

It was a challenging game for the Dallas defense from the start, with the Hawks scoring 40 points in the first quarter. The hot shooting continued all night for Atlanta as it shot 57% overall and scored nine of the game’s final 11 points in the win.

“We gave up 130,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “Team shot 57%. It’s a shootaround. In this league you do that, doesn’t matter if you have Luka or LeBron or Kareem, you lose.”

WHAT TO KNOW

The result extended Dallas’ losing streak to three games and was the Mavericks’ fifth defeat in six games. In the five losses, Dallas has allowed an average of 127.8 points, including allowing at least 130 points for the third consecutive game.

The Mavericks’ porous defense is a negative turnaround after ranking seventh in defensive rating in the NBA last season. This season they are 25th. 

Both defenses struggled to get a stop Wednesday night as both teams shot over 50%. Dallas shot 52% overall and 38% (16 of 42) from three-point range.

Atlanta connected on 50% (13 of 26) of its three-point attempts.

The loss drops Dallas (24-22) to fifth in the Western Conference.

The loss also drops Doncic to 4-3 in head-to-head matchups with Young. The two were traded for each other as top-five picks on draft night in 2018, Doncic going third overall and Young fifth.

On a positive note, two of the Mavericks’ best defenders, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green, returned to the court from lengthy injury absences. 

Finney-Smith started and played 35 minutes after returning from missing 14 games with a right adductor strain. He did not have a great offensive game (nine points, 1 of 6 shooting from three), and his defense looked rusty, but he grabbed nine rebounds.

Green played 20 minutes after missing 20 games with a right elbow strain and finished with nine points on 3-of-3 shooting. 

Unfortunately, their presence had little effect on the Dallas defense on Wednesday night, but it should improve as both get reacclimated to the lineup. 

John Collins added 19 points for Atlanta as it won a season-best fourth consecutive game to get back over .500 (23-22), good for eighth place in the East.

BY THE NUMBERS

Dallas actually held the largest lead of the night after an 11-0 run put it up 10 points (83-73) with 8:36 remaining in the third quarter. 

Murray answered by scoring the next eight points to get the Hawks back within two in just one minute. The Hawks would score 33 points in the third quarter and 32 in the fourth. 

WHO SAID

Afterward, Kidd criticized his team’s effort perhaps more harshly than at any point in his one-and-a-half seasons as coach.

“Until we put in a better effort into defense and understanding what we have to do, then we’re going to score 120 but we’re going to give 130, 140. One night we might give up 150,” he said.

“He’s right,” Doncic said of Kidd’s comments. “I think our offense is fine. We scored what, 122? That’s good . . . We’re good on offense. We’ve just got to make sure we put in the same effort on defense.”

FREE THROWS

While Finney-Smith and Green returned from injuries on Wednesday, another key defender, Maxi Kleber, missed his 19th game since tearing his right hamstring on December 12, requiring surgery the following day.

Initially, it appeared Kleber might miss the rest of the season. However, he accompanied the Mavericks on the team’s five-game road trip last week and has been gradually increasing his activity level as it appears his return is imminent. 

NEXT UP

The Mavericks stay home to host the Miami Heat (25-21) on Friday night. 

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