Three thoughts on Luka Dončić’s historic 60-point, 21-rebound triple double in a win over the Knicks…
1. There is no good strategy vs. Luka.
It was only on Christmas when I wrote that teams should try to let Luka beat them as a scorer instead of letting him pick them apart as a passer. Even if he scores 50, that’s better than Dončić finding open three-point shooter after open three-point shooter, was my thinking. Apparently I was wrong! Luka scored 60 while non-Luka Mavs still shot 40 threes, albeit not very efficiently. When the Knicks were not aggressive about sending two at Luka—opting for a lot of drop coverage—Dončić obliged by ambling to his spots and hitting shots, while also bullying his way to the free-throw line a whopping 22 times. And, of course, he still racked up 10 assists for good measure. There will be nights when there are truly no good defensive options against truly elite, incredibly rare offensive talents. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they were on the wrong end of an unstoppable performance Tuesday.
2. The MVP race won’t be fun.
Because there are too many deserving players, and separating them is going to be quite difficult. Nikola Jokić is the reigning, back-to-back MVP, and he’s having the most efficient season of his career for the No. 1 team in the West. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum is averaging 31/8/4 for the best team in the East, and is the best offensive player on one of the best offenses in NBA history. Then you have Joel Embiid, who is actually leading the league in scoring and finished No. 2 in voting last year. The only knock against Stephen Curry is injury, because he’s arguably having a better season than when he was the unanimous MVP in 2016. And then you have Luka, the NBA’s best one-man show, and the person who is the most likely to challenge his own record-setting triple double. I’m not suggesting we go out of our way to nitpick everyone’s games. Finding the differences between these players will be a fool’s errand. Let’s just marvel at all the talent at the top of the league.
3. Are the Mavs ready for a run?
At 19–16, Dallas is now three games over .500 for the first time since they were 9–6 on Nov. 18. After a loss to Cleveland on Dec. 14, the Mavs have won five of seven, their best stretch in over a month. With three games against Houston and San Antonio coming up, Dallas may be in a position to jump up a bit in the West standings. In a very bunched conference, one successful stretch can put a team in very solid playoff positioning. The Mavs are only one game behind in the loss column of the fourth-seeded Clippers, and only three games out of second place. There is obviously still a long way to go this season, with over half the regular season left to play. Still, after Dallas’s slow start, it was fair to wonder if their surprise conference finals run inflated the expectations of the current group. Now, without Jalen Brunson, the Mavs are still flawed, but ultimately have remained relevant in a West without a clear favorite. If Luka keeps playing like he did against the Knicks, Dallas will be feared no matter who it ends up playing in the postseason.