Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, left, looks up at the scoreboard during a timeout with (from left) forward Tim Hardaway Jr., center Kristaps Porzingis (6), forward Dorian Finney-Smith and center Boban Marjanovic during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss in Los Angeles.

You would like to just sit back and appreciate the fact Luka Doncic plays in Dallas and that his crazy 46-point Game 7 Sunday in Los Angeles is now part of Mavericks lore. But the fact is it didn’t get his team anywhere, which is on owner Mark Cuban, president Donnie Nelson and head coach Rick Carlisle as much as any of the failed supporting cast that the Mavericks brain trust provided their 22-year-old magician.

I mean at halftime Sunday, with the Mavericks trailing the Clippers 70-62, Doncic had outscored Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, 29-26. There wasn’t anything more he could do. And in the second half his complete exhaustion showed on occasion even as he finished with 46 points, seven rebounds and 14 assists. Spectacular numbers but not good enough to keep Los Angeles from pulling away in the third quarter and moving on to the next round with a 126-111 win at Staples Center.

At the end of every NBA game, a varying level of importance can be placed on 3-point shooting. But in 2021, the variation tends to be from high to extremely high. In their biggest game of the year, the Mavericks made 10 of 36 3-pointers (28%) while the Clippers hit on 20 of 43 (46.5%). Luka went 5 for 11, the rest of the team went 5 for 25 and that explains why the team plane returned to Dallas on Sunday instead of heading to Salt Lake City for Round 2.

In the final years of Dirk Nowitzki’s incredible run that included regular-season and postseason MVP honors, the Mavericks’ bosses failed miserably to surround him with adequate talent. They are doing likewise now for Doncic — their one great coup during a predictable run of bad drafts and roster management — and that’s how we have arrived at 10 years without a playoff series win for this franchise.

The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks have won playoff series more recently. Portland fired Carlisle’s former assistant Terry Stotts over the weekend after the Blazers were eliminated by Denver. Stotts’ teams won four series and took a trip to the Western Conference finals since the last time Dallas dug its way out of the opening round.

Just as Cowboys management is somehow sustained by the fact Washington and Detroit have gone longer without reaching an NFC Championship Game, the Mavs cling to Sacramento and Minnesota as the only Western Conference teams with longer stretches of not reaching the second round.

Last offseason’s moment of management brilliance was to turn down the offensive efficiency meter and send Seth Curry to Philadelphia for Josh Richardson in search of better defense. Probably a bad idea for Cuban to get involved in any dealings with Daryl Morey, but this one’s failing showed up in spades Sunday afternoon. Curry, who scored 30 for the Sixers in their series-clinching win over Washington, tossed in 21 in a tough second-round loss to Atlanta on Sunday.

Meanwhile Richardson saw the floor for six minutes, registered no stats beyond two turnovers and was a minus-8. This is a guy who started a fair amount this season, played 30 minutes per game, and yet when it came time to shine he played six, nine and six minutes in the last three games of the season. If Carlisle got nothing out of Richardson, he got only a little more than that out of the $158 Million Man as Kristaps Porzingis shot below 30% from beyond the arc in this series and had only one 20-point game.

Dallas shot so brilliantly at the start of this series that the Clippers narrowly avoided falling down 3-0 here a week ago Friday. But LA’s comeback in that game and the stifling defense the Clippers applied in Game 4 rewrote the script on how this story was going to go.

By the end Sunday afternoon, when Tyronn Lue summoned someone from the bench, he got 11 points in 15 minutes from Luke Kennard. When Carlisle summoned anyone from the bench Sunday, he got six points from five players in 38 minutes. In Dallas’ last three losses to the Clippers, Maxi Kleber produced zero points on 0-for-9 shooting in 62 minutes.

Asked if he’s the right guy to lead Dallas into the future after 13 years here and 10 without postseason success, Carlisle said, “That’s a question you’ll have to ask Mark. Obviously I do.’’

While Cuban said Carlisle isn’t going anywhere, the coach searched for a positive spin, suggesting that this series did nothing but validate Doncic’s reputation as one of the five best players in the NBA. “And we’ve just got to keep building the team around him,’’ he said.

Others might call it time to start before it’s too late.

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