Hours after the Mavericks traded their other player on a maximum contract, Luka Doncic sizzled as Dallas’ lone star, scoring a career-high 51 points in a 112-105 win over the LA Clippers on Thursday.
As fans filled the American Airlines Center, where workers had to remove giveaway posters of Kristaps Porzingis from the seats after he was traded to the Washington Wizards on Thursday, the buzz was about the former All-Star that the Mavs moved before the trade deadline. It didn’t take long for Doncic to command the crowd’s attention.
Doncic swished a 26-foot step-back 3 on the Mavs’ first possession to open the floodgates. He finished the first quarter with 28 points — the most by any NBA player in a quarter this season — on 10-of-13 shooting, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range.
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“When you feel like that, you just don’t want to be stopped and keep going,” Doncic said. “All the shots felt good. I missed two 3s — even those felt great. They were switching. They didn’t want me to create, so I had to go to work.”
Doncic torched the Clippers’ switching defense — repeatedly exploiting center Ivica Zubac on the perimeter, as he did during Dallas’ seven-game series loss in the first round last season — until L.A. adjusted by sending traps at him to force the ball out of his hands. Doncic finished 17-of-26 from the floor and 7-of-14 from 3-point range while also recording nine rebounds and six assists.
“Luka was aggressive from the start and the guys just went for the ride,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said.
It was the fifth 50-point performance in Mavs history and first for the 22-year-old Doncic, who is already a two-time first-team All-NBA selection. He could have attempted to tie or break Dirk Nowitzki’s franchise record of 53 points — set in an unforgettable 2004 overtime shootout against Houston’s Tracy McGrady — but dribbled out the final possession with the win secured.
“You don’t shoot that shot,” said Doncic, who couldn’t recall having a 50-point performance at any level. “It’s disrespectful.”
Doncic described the news of the Mavs’ trade, which sent guard Spencer Dinwiddie and forward Davis Bertans to Dallas, as “shocking.”
The Mavs envisioned the Porzingis as a long-term co-star alongside Doncic when they acquired the 7-foot-3 former All-Star from the New York Knicks in a 2018 blockbuster deal, from which Dallas still owes one of the two first-round picks it gave up. There were glimpses of that potential, but the Mavs decided to move on from Porzingis midway through his five-year, $158 million contract extension, as first-year general manager Nico Harrison cited “flexibility and depth” as the primary reasons to make the trade.
Injuries were a significant factor in preventing Porzingis, who averaged 20.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game during his stint in Dallas, from ever establishing star-level consistency with the Mavs. He played in only 134 games during his Dallas tenure. He arrived while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee and had his first season prematurely end in the playoffs due to a meniscus injury in his right knee that required another operation, which sidelined him to start last season.
Porzingis played in 34 of 55 games this season, when he was sidelined by a variety of injuries and illness, most recently a bone bruise in his right knee.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss KP,” Doncic said. “We were building something great here. It didn’t obviously work out. I wish him the best, and we’ve got two new guys who are welcome. Bertans is a great shooter. Dinwiddie can put the ball on the floor and he can score. The NBA is a business.
“He went through a lot with the injuries. I think this year, he was way better. Like I said, the NBA is a business, and I wish him the best in the future.”
With Porzingis’ departure, the Mavs are back at square one in their search for a star to pair with Doncic, who expressed faith in Harrison and governor Mark Cuban to construct a roster capable of contending consistently.
“I trust them, whatever move they make,” said Doncic, who was ecstatic that starting forward Dorian Finney-Smith agreed to a four-year, $55 million extension after Thursday’s deadline. “I think I have great teammates. A lot of people can do a lot of stuff, and I’m really good now. I think we’re playing great basketball.”
Asked if the Mavs could contend without a second star, Kidd said: “We’ll see. I’m the coach who has to put them in a position to be successful, get paid, find a way to win. As we go through this journey, we’ll see if we come across a No. 2 guy. It could be the team that we have where there is no real second star. You’ve just got guys who play roles at a very high level. And you’ve seen teams win championships that way, too.”
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