The Dallas Mavericks didn’t face much resistance in the opener of their six-game stretch against Eastern Conference foes.
The Mavericks are expecting a much stiffer test in the remaining five contests, beginning with Saturday’s home game against the Miami Heat.
Luka Doncic and company will then square off against NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee, as well as fellow East heavyweights Boston, Philadelphia and reigning champion Toronto.
“The East has been getting better every year for the last several years,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, per the Dallas Morning News. “I believe there’s still a physical element to Eastern Conference teams that’s a little more pronounced.”
Owner Mark Cuban also chimed in, as the Mavericks enter their rugged stretch with wins in 11 of their last 13 games.
“We’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us and we’ve got to continue to prove we can win against good teams,” Cuban said, per the newspaper.
Doncic highlighted his 41-point performance with six 3-pointers as the Mavericks posted a 122-111 victory over Detroit in Mexico City on Thursday. The sophomore sensation added 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his eighth triple-double of the season, matching his total from his rookie campaign.
Kristaps Porzingis scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, with two alley-oop dunks set up by Doncic.
“I think we’re getting better and better every day,” Doncic said. “(Porzingis is) going to get better. I’m going to get better. And with us two, the team is going to get way better.”
Seth Curry erupted for 18 of his season-high 30 points off the bench for Dallas, which has won 17 of its first 24 games for its best start to a season since 2014-15.
Miami acquitted itself well against one of the West’s best in the Los Angeles Lakers before dropping a 113-110 decision on Friday night. The loss was just the second in eight games overall for the Heat, and their first at home this season after 11 straight victories.
Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jimmy Butler scored a team-high 23 points for Miami, however his game-tying 3-point attempt caromed off the rim in the waning seconds of the contest.
Despite the Heat’s loss, coach Erik Spoelstra liked what he saw defensively from his team on superstars Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
“Davis and LeBron are going to be who they are,” Spoelstra said. “They’re Hall of Fame players. They’re going to make plays down the stretch, but I thought we did a good job on both those guys. They’re still going to be able to make plays, but those relief points really hurt us.”
Derrick Jones Jr. added 17 points off the bench, matching the total of his previous four games combined.
“It’s just a learning experience,” the 22-year-old Jones said, per the Miami Herald. “We can be just as good as them any given night when we do our thing. … You have to take away whatever you can from this loss and battle back.”
Miami won’t have much time to devote to that loss with Dallas looming in the wings. The Heat are 0-4 on the second game of back-to-back sets this season.
Miami will host the rematch against the Mavericks on Feb. 28, which is Doncic’s 21st birthday.
–Field Level Media