DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks quickly snuffed out hopes for a combative showdown between superstars Luka Doncic and Ja Morant by seizing a 25-point lead in the first quarter Saturday enroute to a 137-96 drubbing of the Memphis Grizzlies here at American Airlines Center.
Credit Doncic for orchestrating this slaughter, which produced the third-most points for Dallas in a home opener.
The betting favorite in Las Vegas to win his first Kia MVP Award, Doncic either scored or assisted on the Mavericks’ first 20 points, as they rolled to a 20-6 lead that would only swell to 36-11, thanks to the Slovenian pouring in 22 points in the opening frame alone before finishing the night with 32. The hard work early on resulted in Doncic punching the clock after just 2 1/2 quarters of clobbering the Grizzlies.
We’ll dive into the matchup between the 23-year-old superstars and more in our five takeaways from the game:
1. MVP Battle
If he plays all night, Doncic easily notches a triple-double against Morant, who finished with an efficient 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting with four assists and a steal.
Likely sensing this contest to be a showdown between MVP candidates before a sellout crowd of 20,377, Doncic burst out the gates gunning; scoring, or assisting on 27 of Dallas’ first 29 points to help the Mavericks claim a 39-17 advantage at the end of the first frame. The 23-year-old drilled 8 of 10 from the floor and 3 of 4 from deep in the first quarter to go with four rebounds and three assists.
By the end of his 30 minutes on the floor, Doncic found himself in Dallas’ record books by joining Mark Aguirre (1984-85) and Jim Jackson (1994-95) as the only Mavericks to notch 30 points or more in each of the first two games of a season.
To be fair, this contest wasn’t evenly matched if you consider a couple of factors here. First, Memphis entered the game without its two top defenders in Jaren Jackson Jr., who is still recovering from a June surgery on his right foot, and Dillon Brooks (thigh). The Grizzlies also played at Houston on Friday, with Saturday’s outing marking the club’s third game in four nights against a fresh Mavericks squad coming off two days of rest.
Neither Morant nor Doncic would make excuses for the situation, but you can expect the former to be watching the calendar as the season progresses to the next clash between these teams, considering the MVP favorite is now 6-1 head to head against the Grizzlies star.
In fact, Dallas hasn’t even trailed in a matchup with Memphis since the 7:26 mark of the third quarter of a January 14, 2022 game that it ended up winning 112-85.
The Mavs and Grizzlies face off three times in March with two of those games scheduled for national television.
“They have different styles of how they make winning basketball happen night in and night out,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said of the two 23-year-old MVP candidates. “A lot is asked of those two guys. It’s no surprise that they’re both MVP candidates.”
2. Doncic’s Defense
OK, the headline here is a little misleading. But it’s worth noting how much better the Mavericks have performed on that end since Doncic fully bought in to coach Jason Kidd’s request that the superstar guard simply “participate” at shutting down opponents.
Kidd pointed out that Doncic’s performance on defense against the Grizzlies was one of the best he’s seen since taking over as head coach in Dallas.
Even before the game, Jenkins mentioned “improved defense” when discussing about Doncic.
“Yeah, I think it was good,” Doncic said. “Like I said before the season: I’ve got to improve at that. So, I think today has been great. But it’s just one game. So, I’ve got to continue playing like that.”
Doncic finished with two blocks and two steals, but said he evaluates performance on that end by how well he’s “directing traffic on defense,” which “is the most important thing.”
That communication played a major role in one of the game’s most exciting plays after Doncic blocked a Brandon Clarke floater and turned it into a transition alley-oop dunk for Christian Wood.
Wood said that “as we were coming down the court” Doncic communicated his intentions.
“He actually knew what he was gonna do that whole entire play,” Wood said. “He told me, ‘Just catch the lob. I’mma just get to the paint, and just stay in the dunker [spot].’ That’s one of his incredible plays that he makes.”
3. Missing Assist
You be the judge here. Doncic believes the game’s official scorer shorted him a dime by assigning him a missed layup on this assist off the glass to Dorian Finney-Smith, who was credited with the putback dunk.
JUST BEAUTIFULLLLL pic.twitter.com/OHhb0YwEqY
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) October 23, 2022
“That was a pass. They don’t like me,” Doncic said, laughing. “It should be 11 assists, I think. That was not a shot. I’m not going to [attempt] a layup and not touch the rim.”
4. Starting Fast
We’re just two games into the season. So, it’s too early to make declarative statements. But so far, it appears the Mavericks have developed a high level of chemistry quickly, despite losing guard Jalen Brunson in free agency and bringing in a pair of new bigs in Wood and JaVale McGee.
The second observation here is that Dallas jumps on opponents almost immediately from the onset of action.
The Mavericks sprinted to a 28-point lead in the first half on Saturday, and Memphis didn’t possess enough firepower to overcome the deficit. Against Phoenix in the season opener, Dallas took a 21-point edge in the second quarter that increased to 22 by the 10:09 mark of the third quarter, before the Suns charged back to win 107-105.
Doncic admitted that the first two games of the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals (both losses) taught him the importance of starting off games fast.
“I think last year a couple of games we didn’t start [well], especially in the playoffs,” he said. “The first two games against the Suns [in the Western Conference Semifinals] I was not good. That’s why I want to improve that this year.”
5. C-Wood’s Fit
In his eighth NBA season, Wood finds himself on lucky team No. 7. At least the latter seems to be the case when examining the way Wood has meshed seamlessly with his new teammates in Dallas over the first two games.
ALL. OF. THIS. 🤌 pic.twitter.com/PBAWLTB93Z
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) October 23, 2022
“I’m just trying to play hard, do the best I can in the role that I’m in,” he said. “I’m motivated coming off the bench or starting, either way.”
An emerging Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Wood poured in 25 points with 12 rebounds off the bench to become the first player in Dallas franchise history to score 25 points in each of his first two games with the squad. Through the first two games, the 27-year-old is averaging a cool 25 points and 10 rebounds.
“He’s been great. He listens to us. He accepts his role,” Doncic said. “He’s been doing amazing stuff out there. It’s been only two games, but he’s gonna be very good for us.”
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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