Luka Doncic continues to flourish in his third season, averaging career highs of 29 points and 9.2 assists per game.
But to make a playoff run this season, the Mavericks (22-19) must complement his prolific scoring with defensive performances such as the one they delivered in a 132-92 rout of Portland on Sunday.
Dallas, which is 13-5 since Feb. 6, will try to win back-to-back games for the first time since the All-Star break when it travels to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
Doncic’s 37 points, coupled with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith, stifled the Blazers’ explosive tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Finney-Smith, who missed the previous two games while on paternity leave, helped limit Lillard and McCollum to a combined 0-for-12 shooting from 3-point range two days after they shot 11-for-23 from there.
“We shifted our concentration onto our defensive game plan, our offensive game play and unconditionally helping each other out there and turning the attention away from the officials,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “This is part of the growth process for a young team. Some things that this team simply has to go through.”
The performance complemented another stellar output offensively from Doncic, who is averaging 39 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists over his past three games.
Finney-Smith returned to Dallas’ lineup just as rumors ramped up that the Mavericks might swing a trade before Thursday’s deadline.
“He does the little things,” the Mavericks’ Josh Richardson said. “He’s crashing every time. He’s giving all his energy on defense every time down the court.”
Rookie Anthony Edwards has been a source of optimism for the cellar-dwelling Timberwolves, who won three of their first five games after the All-Star break following a nine-game losing streak.
But after his 42-point output — during which he shot 15-of-31 from the field — against Phoenix last Thursday, Edwards has a combined 27 points in back-to-back losses to the Suns and Thunder while shooting a combined 10-for-34.
Edwards averaged 30.6 points on 47.9 percent shooting over his first five games after the All-Star break.
“I was surprised,” he said. “Surprised at my performance and surprised at my team’s performance, for sure. We couldn’t find it. We was playing sluggish. We was playing slow. We couldn’t find a spark.”
Karl-Anthony Towns put up 33 points and 10 rebounds but shot 10-for-28 from the field in the 112-103 loss to Oklahoma City.
Towns, who has been dealing with a left-wrist injury all season, took a hit on it during Monday’s game and said he felt more pain than he had since returning to Minnesota’s lineup on Feb. 10.
“It caused me a lot of discomfort, to say the least,” Towns said. “That’s no excuse to miss bunnies and shots I should make. Just because I’ve had this injury, if I didn’t feel like I was in a physical state to play, I wouldn’t play.”
On the plus side, Minnesota coach Chris Finch told reporters on Monday that D’Angelo Russell is ramping up individual workouts as he aims to return from arthroscopic knee surgery.
–Field Level Media