Ntilikina, who has a July 4 guarantee date on his contract, appeared in 58 games last season, averaging 4.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.5 steals in 11.8 minutes. Ntilikina continues to intrigue teams because of his defense. Offensively, he hasn’t shot over 40% in any of his five NBA seasons.
Maxi Kleber remains a big part of the Mavericks’ plans despite the impending acquisition of Houston’s Christian Wood, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets. Kleber’s $9MM salary isn’t guaranteed until July 4, but that is considered a formality, according to MacMahon. Kleber, who has been a rotation player for Dallas for the past five seasons, projects as Wood’s backup if Dwight Powell is moved this offseason.
We have more from the Southwest Division:
- Kyle Wiltjer and Lydell Elmore are among the free agents participating in the Mavericks’ mini-camp, JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors tweets. Dallas is hosting more than 30 players this week, many of whom have some NBA experience. Wiltjer was previously with the Rockets, while Elmore played for the G League’s Westchester Knicks this past season.
- Should the Pelicans draft Bennedict Mathurin or Dyson Daniels if both prospects are available with the No. 8 pick? The Athletic’s Will Guillory ponders that question. However, if Shaedon Sharpe falls to that spot, New Orleans shouldn’t pass up on his potential, in Guillory’s estimation.
- The Rockets come into the draft with the No. 3 and 17 picks and will wind up with another at 26 when the Wood deal with Dallas is completed. Owner Tilman Fertitta anticipates there are more trades on the horizon on draft night. “In talking about the draft, look at the maneuvering that basketball ops did last year to pick up Al-P (Alperen Sengun) by moving things around,” Fertitta said. “I can promise you one thing: The way it looks on paper, it will not be exactly like that come Thursday. Stuff just happens. People call you. You’re calling people.”
The Mavericks bounced back in Friday night’s Game 3 with a 103-94 victory over the Suns, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Jalen Brunson, who struggled in the first two games of the series, scoring a combined 22 points on just 9-of-28 shooting, led the way with a game-high 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting.
“I kind of found myself playing with a little bit more hop in my step, getting to spots quicker and making decisions faster,” Brunson said. “Decisions came from me just being aggressive. My teammates just kept giving me confidence to go make plays, and I just kept doing that. … I found a way to bounce back tonight, but I just can’t be satisfied with this.”
Star Luka Doncic finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, but perhaps more importantly, showed renewed vigor on the defensive end after being repeatedly targeted in Game 2.
“The first or second possession, he was diving on the floor,” Dorian Finney-Smith said of Doncic. “When you see the best player do that, it kind of sets the mood.”
“I knew I had to do better,” said Doncic, per MacMahon. “I knew I could do better. I think I made a big jump on defense this year. The second half (of Game 2) was horrible by me, and I knew I had to get back to my team and play better defense.”
Here’s more on the Mavs:
- Head coach Jason Kidd lamented the fact that Doncic didn’t receive much help in the first two games, but he was happy with team’s well-rounded performance in Game 3, MacMahon relays in the same article. “Everybody joined the party,” Kidd said. “They helped out on both ends. Luka was great defensively. He participated, too. It puts us in a different position when that happens.”
- Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock were key in slowing down the Suns’ star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. “Reggie and Doe-Doe (Finney-Smith), man, those guys have been incredible all year on the defensive end,” Doncic said. “They’re our leaders on defense. We go as they go on defense.” Bullock and Finney-Smith combined for six steals and 8-of-21 on three-pointers, limiting CP3 and Booker to more turnovers (12) than field goals converted (11).
- Kidd said the NBA had the wrong priorities regarding the team’s $25K fine for ‘bench decorum’ violations, Townsend notes in another article. “The league is worried about the wrong thing. You have millionaires cheering on other millionaires. Doesn’t happen in this society. And the enthusiasm of the game, for a teammate to cheer on another teammate is special. And I think sometimes we’re focused on the wrong thing. And so when you look at people who make a lot of money cheering on their teammates or their employees, that’s what sport is all about. And so for us to get fined, that’s cool. It’s going to another good cause, charity. But again, we’re looking at the wrong thing,” Kidd said before Game 3.
- Dallas’ heliocentric approach, with Doncic frequently dominating offensive possessions, has led to him being tired in the second halves of games in the postseason. Prior to Game 3, Tim Cato of The Athletic detailed how Doncic and the Mavs could adjust in order for him to contribute on both ends of the floor.
- Maxi Kleber is improving after falling on his neck in Monday’s Game 1, tweets Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News. “It’s better. I still feel it a little bit when I move my head and all that, but it’s good. I was lucky,” Kleber said.
Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson, an unrestricted free agent this summer, scored a career-high 41 points during the Mavericks’ 110-104 Game 2 victory over the Jazz Monday night, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN writes. The win knots Dallas’ first-round series with Utah at 1-1.
Dallas explored a five-out offensive attack, capitalizing on a Jazz weakness (guarding the perimeter). Brunson’s performance proved critical for a Mavericks club missing its lone All-Star in Luka Doncic, still sidelined with a left calf strain.
“I know he’s dying to get out there soon, but he’s got to take his time,” Brunson said of his backcourt mate. “I know he’s doing everything in his power to not let his team down, but he has to make the decision that’s best for him. Not necessarily knowing where he is [in the recovery process], but I just know that he’s a competitor and he wants to be out there. We’re trying to hold it down for him.”
Following a breakout fourth season in Dallas and thanks to this playoff start, the market for Brunson should be robust this summer. He’s averaging 32.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.0 APG and 1.0 SPG across the first two games of the Utah series. For the regular season, Brunson registered averages of 16.3 PPG, 4.8 APG, and 3.9 APG, along with a shooting line of .502/.373/.840.
There’s more out of the Lone Star State:
- Mavericks big man Maxi Kleber, dealing with a severe long-range shooting slump, seems to have righted the ship across his first two playoff games with Dallas this season, per Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com. Kleber had been converting 18.8% of his three-point looks since returning from the All-Star break, but is now 10-of-16 from deep over the first two games of the Utah series. “Obviously it is a big boost, but even in the games before when I didn’t shoot well, I think overall I still did many things and we won as a team,” Kleber said. “It doesn’t matter if I get a hot day and make my shots or somebody else does. All we care about is getting the win. Obviously, it feels really good to make those shots because the end of the season wasn’t my prettiest.”
- The rebuilding Rockets face a variety of roster choices during the 2022 offseason. Kelly Iko of The Athletic previews what could be an action-packed summer for Houston in a new piece. Iko examines the fits of expected high-lottery draft picks Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey; the future of $47.4MM man John Wall; potential extensions for Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate, and more.
- The Spurs face an interesting decision during the 2022 offseason, as fourth-year shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV is set to hit restricted free agency, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. The 6’4″ wing has indicated that he is “hopeful” to sign a new deal with San Antonio. “Everyone talks about what I do for the community, but nobody talks about what the community does for us as players — the love and energy and everything they instill in us,” Walker said. “I embrace the fact the community embraced me. I’ve been having a hell of a time.” The 34-48 Spurs finished with the No. 10 seed and a play-in tournament appearance this season. In 70 games for San Antonio, Walker averaged a career-high 12.1 PPG and 2.2 APG, plus 2.6 RPG, in 23.0 MPG. He posted shooting splits of .407/.314/.784 this season.
In an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up on Thursday morning, Brian Windhorst said that there’s a real chance Ben Simmons could make his Nets debut at some point during the team’s first-round series vs. Boston (video link).
“I am told that Ben Simmons is targeting Games 4, 5, or 6 for making his Brooklyn Nets debut,” said Windhorst, who added that he was “taken aback” when he received that information. “My response was, ‘Is he even playing 5-on-5 yet?’ And the answer to that is no, but the hope is by the end of the week he can ramp up to that.
“… It’s a big ask, but I have to say that really for seven (or) eight weeks now, I’ve heard nothing but pessimism on the Ben Simmons front and that has switched dramatically in the last few days.”
Shams Charania of The Athletic has also reported that a first-round return is a possibility for Simmons. When asked on Wednesday about Charania’s report, head coach Steve Nash pumped the brakes a little, telling reporters that there’s still no set timeline for Simmons’ debut. However, Nash did say the three-time All-Star has been making “heavier progress” in the last week, according to Brian Lewis of The New York Post.
“He’s moving more, he’s shooting, he’s starting to move a little bit on the court in a one-on-zero environment,” Nash said. “So definitely positive signs that it’s improving and moving and all those things. But like I said he hasn’t been running full speed or playing against anybody, so still a lot more markers to meet.”
Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:
- Jamal Murray‘s potential return from ACL surgery is in the “red zone,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said during an appearance on 92.5 FM Altitude Sports in Denver, meaning a decision will likely be made soon (Twitter link via Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports). A first-round return remains possible for Murray, who is still ahead of Michael Porter Jr. in the rehab process, according to Connelly.
- Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said on Wednesday that he hasn’t closed the door on Murray returning in the first round, but “would lean more towards him being doubtful” for the club’s series vs. Golden State, as Mike Singer of The Denver Post relays.
- Appearing today on Toucher & Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said he remains comfortable with the four- to six-week timeline the team initially announced for Robert Williams‘ recovery (Twitter link via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston). Williams is progressing well, according to Stevens, but still hasn’t been cleared for contact and has “a ways to go.”
- Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber missed the last four games of the regular season due to right ankle soreness, but went through a full practice on Wednesday and said he feels “100% better,” writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.
Although Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith have been frequently mentioned in trade rumors within the last few weeks, Marc Stein says in his latest Substack article that the safe money is on both players remaining with the Mavericks through the February 10 trade deadline.
Dallas has rebuffed trade interest in Brunson and Finney-Smith so far, according to Stein, who notes that both players are important parts of the team’s current roster. Discussing Brunson specifically, Stein says the Mavs believe the point guard wants to stick with the team long-term and haven’t considered the idea of sending him to the Knicks in a deal that would allow them to reacquire their 2023 first-round pick.
While the Mavs would ideally like to extend both Brunson and Finney-Smith before they reach unrestricted free agency this summer, it’s unclear if either player will be interested in a four-year, $55.6MM deal, which is the most Dallas can offer at this point. A previous report stated that Finney-Smith may be seeking $15MM+ annually on his next contract, and Stein says Brunson is believed to after $18MM+ per year.
Here’s more on the Mavs:
- As they consider potential deadline moves, the Mavs are looking to upgrade their offense rather than their defense, which is why they backed off pursuing rim-protecting Pacers center Myles Turner, Stein writes.
- Dallas’ ability to make an impact trade may be hindered by the lack of interest in many of their players outside of Brunson and Finney-Smith, according to Stein. Tim Hardaway Jr. was having a down year before he got hurt, and the perceived trade value of Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell has “waned,” Stein adds.
- Sources tell Stein that using their $10.9MM trade exception to acquire guard Dennis Schröder from the Celtics isn’t in the Mavs’ plans.
- If Goran Dragic is bought out, either by the Raptors or by a team that acquires him as a salary-matching piece, Dallas would be among the frontrunners to sign him, but multiple clubs would be in the running, according to Stein.
Mavericks star Luka Doncic has cleared the league’s health and safety protocols, sources tell Marc Stein (Twitter link). Doncic, who hasn’t played since December 10, missed a combined 10 games due to a left ankle injury and his time in the protocols. He’s expected to meet his teammates in Oklahoma City and may return to the court on Sunday.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber may also be able to exit the protocols in time for Sunday’s game, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Dallas, which has five other players still in protocols, managed to go 5-5 without Doncic and is holding onto eighth place in the Western Conference.
Here are more updates on players entering and exiting the protocols:
- The Thunder will face the Mavs tomorrow without leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has been placed in the protocols, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Rookie guard Josh Giddey has been cleared to return.
- Center Mitchell Robinson has entered the protocols, the Knicks announced (via Twitter). He becomes New York’s fifth player to be sidelined due to COVID-19.
- Nate McMillan is the latest head coach to be placed in protocols, the Hawks tweeted. Assistant Joe Prunty will serve as acting head coach while McMillan is action (Twitter link from Wojnarowski). Atlanta’s Sharife Cooper, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Onyeka Okongwu and Delon Wright are all out of protocols and are expected to be with the team for Monday’s game at Portland.
- David Adelman, acting head coach for the Nuggets, is joining Michael Malone in protocols, Wojnarowski tweets. Popeye Jones will run the team tonight in Houston.
- Kings center Richaun Holmes has also entered the protocols, sources tell Wojnarowski (Twitter link).
- The Hornets have gotten Miles Bridges and PJ Washington back from protocols, according to Rod Boone of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter link). Both are considered questionable for Sunday’s game against Phoenix. Vernon Carey Jr. has entered the protocols for Charlotte, however, Boone tweets.
- Thanasis Antetokounmpo is the latest member of the Bucks to enter the protocols, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic.
- Clippers guard Luke Kennard has been placed in protocols, a source tells Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link). The team issued a statement on coach Tyronn Lue, who entered the protocols while in Canada, saying, “We are working on the safest way to get him back home.” (Twitter link)
Kleber joins Reggie Bullock and Josh Green in the COVID-19 protocols. Luka Doncic (left ankle soreness), Willie Cauley-Stein (personal reasons) and Eugene Omoruyi (right foot injury) will also miss Tuesday’s game against the Timberwolves. Minnesota has five players in the protocols.
Kristaps Porzingis (toe soreness) is questionable to play.
Kleber played 31 minutes against Minnesota, contributing six points and 14 rebounds. He’s averaging 7.3 PPG and 5.9 RPG.
The Mavs have signed Theo Pinson and are planning to sign Marquese Chriss via the hardship exemption to fortify the roster. Dallas also has two assistant coaches, Jared Dudley and Darrell Armstrong, who have been placed in protocols.
Mavericks fans have been clamoring for Moses Brown to get a longer look at center, but head coach Jason Kidd appears in no rush to insert the 22-year-old into the rotation, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.
Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein remain ahead of Brown on the depth chart, Boban Marjanovic is still in the mix, and Kidd also sounds interested in experimenting more with Maxi Kleber in the starting lineup, shifting Kristaps Porzingis to the five. As a result, the Mavericks’ head coach isn’t making any promises to the fans who want to see more of Brown.
“He could get a chance,” Kidd said, per Townsend. “I think for fans, or for anybody, if they look at our roster we have quite a few centers. So there’s a committee of centers. And at some point, maybe he [Brown] has an opportunity to play.”
Here’s more from around the Southwest:
- Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal takes a look at what’s next for the Grizzlies with Ja Morant sidelined due to a sprained knee. Morant has the league’s third-highest usage rate among point guards, so Memphis will try to replace him using a committee, with Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, and Kyle Anderson all taking on added ball-handling responsibilities.
- Jaxson Hayes opened the season as the Pelicans‘ primary backup center, but Willy Hernangomez has taken over that role in New Orleans’ last four games. Scott Kushner of NOLA.com writes that Hayes was handed his minutes, while Hernangomez – who re-signed with the team over the summer – has fought to earn his.
- John Hollinger of The Athletic is confused about why John Wall and the Rockets are at an impasse over whether or not he starts. Hollinger thinks Houston should be open to putting Wall in the starting lineup, where he could make life easier for Jalen Green, but also believes Wall shouldn’t be too hung up on starting, since potential suitors aren’t going to view him any differently if he’s coming off the bench.
As first reported last week by Marc Stein (Twitter link) and later confirmed by the team, the Mavericks will retire Dirk Nowitzki‘s No. 41 jersey on January 5, when they host the Warriors in Dallas.
Nowitzki will join Rolando Blackman (No. 22), Brad Davis (No. 15), and Derek Harper (No. 12) as Mavericks players who have had their jersey numbers retired by the franchise. All three players are expected to be in attendance for the ceremony on January 5, along with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, writes Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com.
“Dirk is everything to the Mavs. First, 41.21.1,” team owner Mark Cuban said, referring to Nowitzki becoming the first NBA player to spend 21 seasons with a single team. “And now, lifting his jersey to the rafters. It is a special day for the Mavs and Mavs fans around the world.”
Here’s more out of Dallas:
- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban spoke on Sunday to a handful of reporters, including Mark Medina of NBA.com, about the team’s start to the season, his first impressions of new general manager Nico Harrison, and Nowitzki’s jersey retirement ceremony, among other topics. “He’s a learner,” Cuban said of Harrison. “To me, that’s always the most important part. Can you deal with the people? Can you get the results? And are you a learner? He’s a learner. He’s a sponge and always open to things. So I’m happy with what’s going on.”
- Maxi Kleber returned to action on Sunday for the Mavs after sitting out nine games with a left oblique strain, but Luka Doncic remained sidelined, missing his third consecutive game due to left knee and ankle sprains. Doncic was a game-time decision on Sunday, which suggests he’s close to getting back on the court. Dallas is 0-3 without him after starting the season with a 9-4 record.
- Mavs guard Frank Ntilikina left Sunday’s game due to a right calf injury and didn’t return (Twitter link). The severity of the injury isn’t yet known.