Rising Mavericks come to visit a Warriors team leaning on Kevon Looney
No Iguodala, Thompson; possibly extended absence of Green
The surging Dallas Mavericks are coming to town, and it’s not a great time for the Golden State Warriors. Maybe come back in a few weeks? By then, presumably Draymond Green would be back from injury, along with a less rusty Klay Thompson. Heck, maybe Stephen Curry’s shooting slump would be gone by then as well.
But like a bad house guest, here come the Mavericks. Rising star Luka Doncic is averaging 27.2 points over the last 10 games for Dallas, who have an 8-2 record during that span.
For Golden State, still no updates or return timelines for Green (or James Wiseman) and unfortunately, it looks like that “tweak” that pulled Thompson out of the lineup at the last moments before the previous game is still something of a concern. He didn’t practice with the team yesterday, and is currently listed as questionable.
Likewise Andre Iguodala is going to be out for a while longer. No real updates here. Because of his age and experience, the team came into the season knowing that they’d be managing his playing time all year. And unfortunately, this is what that looks like. If you missed it, I actually published half of this preview yesterday, because I wrote way too much about the slumping Stephen Curry.
WHO: Dallas Mavericks (27-20) at Golden State Warriors (34-13)
WHEN: Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 // 7:00pm PDT
Looney has been great, is it enough?
Against the backdrop of all of this, the Warriors have clung to second place in the West. A testament to the viability to the long term plans of the team’s front office? Or a bunch of happy random endings?
One way or another though, Kevon Looney is having a phenomenal season.
He pulls down 7.2 rebounds per game, and blocks 0.8 shots — both second on the team behind Draymond Green. Slotted in as the team’s starting center, Looney has managed to hold his own against the big names (and big bodies) starting at center around the league. Some of this is a result of minutes played, but Looney is crushing his career averages.
For a role player like Looney who doesn’t score much, lacks the sort of eye-popping athleticism that makes highlight reels, he’s more like an offensive lineman in football. Doing the dirty work and only getting noticed when things go wrong.
But Looney is quietly plugging away in the trenches. Playing a career high of 20.7 minutes per game, Looney has taken over as the stalwart, reliable defender after the recurring absences of Green and Iguodala. Looney plays like a wise old hermit, staying in his space, and using his wisdom to collect rebounds. According to Cleaning the Glass, Looney leads the team in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates (where he pulls down around 13% and 20%, respectively).
But this is all on brand for Looney, a guy who has made it is brand to always make the right plays without adding much flash. What has changed this season is that Looney has transitioned from a bench role to a starter, and not only that, but he’s started every single game.
It’s the health and availability that is probably the biggest surprise of Looney’s season. It’s a most welcome occurrence, and one that has proven to be sorely needed.
From that article, there’s a cool little snippet about how well his teammates recognize Looney’s excellence:
“Wrong guy,” the Warriors bench has blurted for years when teams pick on Looney. Dating back to those isolation-heavy playoff series against the Rockets, Looney has proved capable on an island against isolation scorers.
And now the Warriors find themselves leaning more heavily Looney than they ever have before. This is no longer a temporary stopgap measure until Wiseman returns. Looney is Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.
This was an intentional compromise in this season’s roster construction. A gamble driven by need - a need authored by the historical inertia of a top-heavy Warriors roster badly in need of wing depth. With players like Otto Porter, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala slated for limited availability, and the threadbare center depth intentionally placed, Golden State has leaned on Green and Looney to shoulder a metric ton of responsibility down low.
No moves are coming. It’s some unknown combination of the Warriors liking their guys, not having roster flexibility, and a trade market that isn’t all that receptive to helping the Warriors upgrade. But one way or another, this is the squad the Warriors are riding with. It’s viable, if the bodies can withstand it. This is a roster that can work; it has worked for most of the season.
With Covid, every team has piled a constant roster shuffle on top of the usual pressure that comes from a season-long campaign and all the bumps and bruises that come along with it. However, it’s fair to wonder how big of an impact this roster construction is going to have on the small centers that the team relies on. Thanks to DNHQ member Captain Jack for finding this, but listen to Marc Spears saying Draymond's absence could probably be extended past his reevaluation (which I believe is due Sunday). “Right now, I keep hearing there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Spears says.
So far, we’ve seen the proof. Golden State was running over the entire league for most of the season, now they’ve just got to do so for another half a season or so. Phase one went well enough, there’s some wiggle room in phase two, and then you roll the dice hoping for a decently healthy Warriors squad for phase three and the playoffs.
How do the Mavs look? Pretty good, thanks!
The Dallas Mavericks are going to be an absolute handful.
The newly returned Prozingas and Luka Doncic are quickly becoming the power duo that Dallas hoped they could become. There’s no shortage of tests for the Golden State Warriors this season, what’s one more resurgent Western Conference opponent?
Dallas is roaring up the Power Rankings (for whatever that’s worth). Here’s the one from ESPN
The Mavs’ 10-2 record in January is the second best in the league behind only the Suns, who won in Dallas on Wednesday when the Mavs were on the second game of a back-to-back. Dallas’ 98.8 defensive rating this month ranks first by a margin of 5.7 points. Luka Doncic is starting to look like the first-team All-NBA player he’s been the past two seasons, posting his two highest-scoring games of the season last week, scoring 41 in a win over the Raptors and 37 in a win over the Grizzlies.
And though the team is riding high on the resurrected zombie career of Porzingas, according to The Athletic, this team has a small ball squad worthy of notice.
Promising lineup: Luka Doncic | Jalen Brunson | Tim Hardaway Jr. | Dorian Finney-Smith | Dwight Powell | 95 minutes | +11.8 net rating
It’s interesting this is the Dallas Mavericks’ most used, positive lineup. No Porzingas in here, and they’re super small with Powell at the five. But the playmaking of Doncic and Brunson keep the offense humming. They score over 120 points per 100 possessions, so the defense doesn’t have to be stellar. It’s still good because the Mavs’ defense has been great most of this season under Jason Kidd. It’s their offense that has been slow to come around, but this lineup helps pump up those numbers quite a bit. Their true shooting percentage is hovering above 62 percent.
This is going to be a tough one, especially if Curry’s slump is still in effect. Still, if you are rolling the dice on a team, a Warriors team led by Curry is seldom a bad bet.
My word: mediocre Celtics 73, Kangz 33 in the 3rd Q.
Haliburton + Mitchell + Barnes + Hield a combined 4-36 from the floor. o_O
Edit: now a manageable 81-42.
Pop quiz: who is the only player that LeBron has beaten in the Finals twice?