Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic on Kyrie Irving: ‘When we play both at our best, it’s tough to stop us’

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LOS ANGELES – Kyrie Irving and LeBron James reunited, but not in a way that might produce nostalgia. Instead, the two collided against each other at halfcourt before Irving fell to the ground.

“He hurt his hip there,” Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “He was just trying to get loose and get back into the flow of things. I think he struggled from that point on.”

He sure did. The Mavericks labored through a 127-110 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday while Irving posted 12 points on inefficient clips from the field (4-for-16) and from 3-point range (1-for-5). Perhaps some of that could be traced to that fall.

After Mavericks center Dereck Lively II threw an outlet pass to Irving near center court, Irving jumped in the air to retrieve the ball. Just as Irving flicked the ball down the court, James accidentally charged into him. Irving laid on the floor for a few moments before James helped him up with 7:36 left in the first quarter. Irving exited the game before returning at the 3:08 mark, but he hardly provided the kind of performance that may make the Lakers feel remorseful for the Mavericks retaining him on a three-year, $126 million deal.

“You can’t say he wasn’t the same,” Lively said. “Being able to get hurt by someone that big, even I would be hurting from that. But I wouldn’t say that caused the game he had. He just had an off night. Some shots didn’t fall for him.”

The same thing could be said for the rest of the Mavericks (24-18).

Kyrie Irving injured as Dallas Mavericks struggle against Lakers

dallas mavericks kyrie irving
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

They went a combined 11-for-40 from 3-point range despite becoming the first team in NBA history to make at least 15 3s in nine of their first 10 games. Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 12 points while shooting 5-for-17 overall and 0-for-7 from deep despite recently becoming the franchise’s fourth all-time leading 3-point shooter.

After missing the past three games with a sprained right ankle, Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double in points (33), rebounds (13) and assists (10), but he also went only 2-for-9 from 3.

“First game back, it was tough,” Doncic said. “There were a lot of threes that were going in, but didn’t.”

Fortunately for the Mavs, this has not reflected their overall season.

They currently rank seventh in the Western Conference, but have stayed near the top of the pack despite players missing a combined 105 games due to various injuries.  Though the Mavericks incidentally rank worse this season in points allowed (117.1) than during last season’s struggles that led to a missed playoff appearance (114.1), the Mavericks have touted their key sign-and-trade (Grant Williams) and draft prospect (Lively) for improving the team’s defensive depth. And after only going 5-11 when Doncic and Irving played together last season, the Mavericks have become pleased with their improved chemistry.

“We did it before. Some days, one is going to have a good game. Some days, others are going to have a good game,” Doncic said. “But when we play both at our best, it’s tough to stop us. Hopefully we can get that to that next game.”

Dallas is awaiting clarity on whether it will play against the Golden State Warriors (18-22) after the NBA postponed its game against Utah on Wednesday following the passing of assistant coach Dejan Milojević.  Either way, Irving and Doncic have mostly thrived together.

As ESPN noted, Dallas averaged 119.2 points per 100 possessions in 444 minutes the duo played together last season. Per NBA.com, Irving and Doncic have averaged a 119.1 points per 100 possessions in a combined 479 minutes together so far in 21 games.

“You just look at time. As much as you want things to happen instantly or happen right away, sometimes it just takes time,” Kidd said. “You look at the roster, you would say the roster is better. You look at the pieces around those two. They have benefitted in a great way.”

Doncic has averaged a career-best 33.6 points on 48.5% shooting along with 9.1 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game. Irving has averaged 25.8 points on 48% shooting and 5.4 assists, a slight decrease from last season’s 27 points on 51% shooting and 6.0 assists. Prior to Irving’s sluggish performance against the Lakers, however, he has posted two 40-point games and three 30-point games in the past month.

Irving didn’t speak to reporters after Wednesday’s game in favor of receiving treatment. The Mavericks spoke plenty on Irving’s behalf on how he has elevated the team with his leadership and chemistry with Doncic.

“Those two need each other. Those two play well off one another. You look at what Kai is doing right now, he’s on a tear,” Kidd said. He needs to stay in that atmosphere and continue leading this group. He’s a great leader. Those guys play for him. Getting Luka back, we need Luka to do what he does. Kai is the best playing with stars. He’s done it his whole career with being a star. His maturity and patience, when you look at his play of late, he never gets flustered. He’s always helping his teammates. That’s what makes him really special.”

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