The Mavericks came into the game shorthanded, as has been the case all week. They lost another starter early in the day, as Dorian Finney-Smith was declared out with a non-covid related illness. But Kristaps Porzingis, who had missed the last two games dealing with a sore toe, was cleared to play.
For a while Dallas was able to keep up with Utah, who sits at third in the Western Conference. Jalen Brunson and Porzingis kept the Mavericks in it as long as they could. But the talent disparity finally caught up to them in the fourth quarter, and the Jazz pulled away to win the game.
Brunson and Porzingis led the Mavericks with 27 points each. Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 33 points, and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 25. Mike Conley also contributed 22 points.
Here are three thoughts from the game:
The replacement players are finally starting to look like replacement players
The guys called up on hardship contracts initially provided a spark and an energy the Mavericks haven’t had in a while. But the last two games have finally shown the reason these guys weren’t on an active roster. Energy and determination are great, but at the end of the day talent always wins in the NBA.
All replacement players not named Theo Pinson went 3-13 and scored a combined 13 points. Pinson was slightly better, scoring 9 points on 3-5 shooting. Brandon Knight did go 2-4 from the floor with 10 points, though. There’s just not enough scoring punch from anyone on the bench with Brunson in the starting lineup.
The Jazz constantly attacked Porzingis
Guards and wings have no fear going directly at Porzingis. That’s less than ideal. Porzingis is great at helping at the basket. It’s where the majority of his blocks come from most games. But he’s helpless when attacked one-on-one, even by smaller players.
And the Jazz went right at him. They kept getting Porzingis on switches with Jordan Clarkson, and it usually went well for Clarkson. They also got some of those same opportunities with Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. Going forward the Mavericks have to find a way to emphasize Porzingis’ help ability and mitigate his weakness in isolations.
Brunson continues to play excellent basketball
Brunson started the year on the bench and shined, averaging 12 points per game as a reserve. But when injuries and Covid protocols decimated the roster, Brunson was thrust into a starter’s role and thrived. He’s averaged 20 points and 7 assists per game as a starter.
Brunson isn’t built to play such big minutes. He doesn’t have explosive athleticism or a deadeye shot. He has to work for his buckets. All he’s done is put his head down and work, grinding out the points and shots the Mavericks need to stay competitive while the Mavericks battle the injury bug. It’s Christmas, so it’s a good time to recognize what a gift Brunson has been for the Mavericks this year.
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