The San Antonio Spurs narrowly evaded an all-too-familiar fourth-quarter catastrophe as they defeated the shorthanded New York Knicks in a high-scoring contest on Thursday night. They will now host another banged-up playoff hopeful as they welcome the Dallas Mavericks to the AT&T Center for the first time this season.
Luka Doncic has gone scorched earth on the NBA over the past couple of weeks, and the good guys are the latest lottery-territory team on his path of devastation. Although the Silver and Black have been more respectable since their 11-game losing streak in November, their interstate rival enters the evening as heavy favorites.
San Antonio Spurs (12-23) vs. Dallas Mavericks (20-16)
December 31, 2022 | 6:00 PM CST
Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs: Dominick Barlow (Out — Two-Way), Charles Bassey (Out — Two-Way), Blake Wesley (Out — On Assignment), Devin Vassell (Doubtful — Knee)
Mavericks: Josh Green (Out — Elbow), Dorian Finney-Smith (Out — Adductor), Maxi Kleber (Out — Hamstring), Luka Doncic (Probable — Ankle)
Can Anyone Stop Luka Doncic?
Despite losing crucial rotation pieces like Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Josh Green to significant injuries over the last couple of weeks, the shorthanded Mavericks have won five straight games and tiptoed into fifth place in the Western Conference. A handful of players have stepped up amid all the absences across their roster, but no one has done more to help Dallas than Luka Doncic.
The three-time All-Star has been the best offensive engine on the planet, averaging 40.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 10.4 assists on .579/.429/.775 shooting splits in what will likely go down as one of the most remarkable stretches in hoops history. Though dropping 50-8-10, 60-21-10, and 35-12-13 within the same week is the kind of ridiculousness you expect to see in the fantasy land of NBA 2K23, Doncic has cooked up video game numbers on a nightly basis.
The young superstar is on an all-time heater, and he should be drooling at the thought of facing San Antonio and their league-worst defense. The Spurs could use a combination of Jeremy Sochan, Keldon Johnson, and Romeo Langford to hound Luka on isolation and pick-and-roll possessions. However, sending physical defenders his way might not matter since the 23-year-old guard is a phenomenal passer capable of creating something out of nothing with his unmatched vision and inescapable scoring gravity.
Finding Heroes In Unlikely Places
San Antonio might not be home to a hotbed of transcendent talent, but they have sneakily become one of the deepest teams in the association. From Keita Bates-Diop, Josh Richardson, and Doug McDermott to Stanley Johnson, Isaiah Roby, and Charles Bassey, their surplus of adequate role players has kept them afloat when injuries and illness have threatened to derail their season.
Romeo Langford was the latest unexpected savior for the Spurs, recording a career-high 23 points as they weathered a fourth-quarter comeback bid from the Knicks on Thursday night. You never know who might rise to the occasion, and even the rookies are getting a chance to prove their worth to Head Coach Gregg Popovich.
Jeremy Sochan (13.7 PPG) and Malaki Branham (10.2 PPG) have averaged double figures since December 19, which ranks 5th and 11th, respectively, among all rookies in scoring during that span. The former notched 23 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in a competitive loss to New Orleans. The latter registered a career-high 20 points off the pine in a nail-biting victory over the Jazz.
Both rookies have displayed tangible development during the last month, with Sochan implementing one-handed free throws to improve his stroke and Branham taking charge with the second unit on the offensive end. Regardless of the final score, the pair of 2022 first-rounders could continue to give fans something to cheer about when the Mavericks come to town.
For the Mavericks fans’ perspective, please visit Mavs Moneyball.
The Game Thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action on PtR’s Twitter feed.