HOUSTON — Damp from the postgame shower, wearing a white T-shirt with a blue towel wrapped around his waist, Luka Doncic looked over his shoulder and whispered to a Dallas Mavericks public relations assistant.
“Do I have to talk?” Doncic asked quietly.
“You dropped 40 and 10,” the voice behind Doncic shot back. “You have to talk.”
Finally! Someone had managed to prevent Doncic from doing whatever he pleased. The Houston Rockets failed spectacularly earlier Sunday afternoon, letting Doncic drill them for 41 points and 10 assists in a 137-123 demolition at the Toyota Center. After five straight victories, Dallas is riding its longest winning streak since March of 2016.
The dominating road win — over a team that a week prior captured eight consecutive triumphs of its own — might just reshape some thinking around the NBA about where the Mavericks stand in the conversation regarding Western Conference title contenders.
Mostly, it put on display what everybody else already knew (with apologies to Paul Pierce): Doncic is the unadulterated truth.
“He’s just a great basketball player,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni after Houston’s third consecutive loss. “He was great in Europe at age 16 or 17. And to be good that early in Europe is not easy. He knows how to play. He’s got a big body. He’s strong. He shoots 3’s, and he’s got a good stepback. He’s got everything. You can see he loves to play. He’s got a great future, that’s for sure.”
The present doesn’t look bad, either.
Against the Rockets, Doncic produced his fourth consecutive game with 30 points or more and 10 or more assists, not to mention his second 40-point, 10-assist effort over that same span. Doncic had already become the youngest player in NBA history to tally three consecutive games with at least 30 points and 10 assists, and now joins James Harden and Russell Westbrook as the only active players to register four consecutive outings with those numbers.
Already the second-youngest player in NBA history to score 30-plus points in four straight games (trailing only Kevin Durant), the 20-year-old Doncic is averaging 37 points, 8.5 rebounds and 11.8 assists on this current four-game tear, shooting 55.4% from the floor and 44.4% from 3-point range.
“We allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do from the beginning of the game,” Harden said. “When you give a team like that comfort and the ability to do whatever they want, they gain confidence, and that’s what they did.”
Dallas opened the game on a 16-4 run in the first three minutes, capped by the second of three stepback 3-pointers nailed by Doncic in the quarter. The former third overall pick opened with 11 points, while Kristaps Porzingis contributed 10 to go with eight rebounds as Dallas built a 45-29 lead after one.
The Mavericks led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, before stifling every run the feisty Rockets made the rest of the way.
Dallas entered the contest having constructed what Carlisle described as “a complex game plan” for stopping Harden, who led the Rockets with 32 points, but never found a rhythm. The Mavericks threw constant double-teams at him, resulting in six turnovers, an 11-of-24 showing from the field and 2-of-15 from 3-point range.
Carlisle mentioned the players stuck with that game plan “through thick and thin.”
“We knew they were going to make plenty of [runs],” Carlisle added. “I thought we were capable of coming in and having this kind of a game. But when you’re on the road with great players and great coaching, they’re going to keep coming at you, and they did. We just were able to finally get our bodies in front of them enough.
“Fatigue was a factor for them. They had a tough trip back from LA, and their guys played a lot of minutes. So, I thought we outlasted them on a certain level. But I’m very proud of the effort. Our defensive coaching staff did a great job of putting the game plan together. And our guys executed it well.”
Luka runs the show. He’s learning each game how to find that balance.”
Mavs teammate Kristaps Porzingis
Houston pulled within five points just seven-plus minutes from the finish, but Dallas responded with a 23-6 run over the next five minutes to restore a 22-point margin.
“We know we’re capable of doing this stuff, and we have to keep doing it like that,” Doncic said. “I approach every game the same, just sometimes the shots will go in and sometimes they won’t. Those matchups, they’re big. Harden is one of the top three players in the league, so this was a big win for us. As I always say after every game [when] they ask about our team, I will say we have amazing players. I just know they’re capable of doing this.”
Certainly, several of them proved it — most notably Tim Hardaway Jr. Making his third consecutive start after playing as a reserve over the first 13 games, Hardaway dialed up his first 30-point game (31 points) as a Maverick.
“He was great again,” Carlisle said of Hardaway. “He’s giving us really great scoring punch and great defense, and a great floor game. He’s an underrated passer. He’s a connector out there. I really like what he’s doing.”
In his last three starts, including Sunday, Hardaway Jr. has connected on 22-of-33 shots, including 13-of-20 from deep.
“One of the goals is to maintain it,” Hardaway said, “and continue to take the pressure off big fella (Porzingis) and Luka.”
Although it’s a small sample size, the Mavericks’ current offensive rating of 117.4 ranks more than 3 points higher than any other team in the NBA. If they somehow maintain that over the course of the season, it would register as the best in league history.
Doncic serves as the catalyst of it all, which is why Porzingis makes no bones about Dallas’ hierarchy on the floor.
“Luka runs the show,” Porzingis said. “We all depend on him in most of the games. When he’s out there, he’s the main ballhandler. He’s playing incredible right now, and he’s getting us open looks. That’s it. He’s also learning each game how to find that balance where we let him do what he does, but also make sure that everybody’s kind of involved, and we all have high energy throughout the game. He’s thinking about it, and he’s getting better at it.”
That should be cause for concern for the rest of the Western Conference, but nobody in Dallas is getting carried away. The Mavericks host the LA Clippers on Tuesday (8:30 ET, NBA TV) before spending Friday and Sunday on the road against the Suns and Lakers.
“We’re not gonna get overexcited. We know we’re capable,” Carlisle said. “The team is growing. This is a big win, there’s no question about that. This is a big-time place to play, and you’re playing against great players. Our guys deserve credit. But look, this is a process. It’s day by day, week by week. We’ve just got to continue to go for daily improvement.”
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.