Daniel Gafford

Mavericks Notes: Irving, Doncic, Gafford, Hardy, Kleber

After the Game 5 win at Oklahoma City, Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving called the matchup with the Thunder “one of the hardest series I’ve ever played,” according to a Dallas Morning News article (subscription required). It’s a significant statement for a player who holds a championship ring and has made three trips to the NBA Finals, but Irving explained why OKC has been an especially difficult opponent.

“It’s just really just the pace and just the physicality,” he said. “And last series was physical too, and the pace was a little different. But I think just this series, it’s challenged me physically, mentally, emotionally. I’ve accepted that and I’ve focused on the things that I can control and focused on getting my guys going early. And however the game plays out, it’s going to play out. But I’m really laying my hat on the defensive end and giving a lot of effort and and just trying to make the right plays offensively. They’re putting three on the ball at times for me and I could obviously take a lot of tough shots and I think that’s coming in the near future when it’s needed. But for right now just reading the game and allowing the basketball gods to shower me with a lot of love when you’re playing the right way.”

Irving also discussed the increased focus that Luka Doncic brought to Game 5. Doncic told his teammates before the contest that he wasn’t going to complain to the officials and was focusing on playing basketball and having fun.

“I think he’s just being smart and taking advice from the guys that have been in situations like this before and trusting that we have his back,” Irving said. “Some of the times when he’s going to the refs, he really feels like that’s an individual thing, and I think he could speak on it, too. He’s just in the moment and he’s very emotional as we all are as competitors. But the bigger picture is what matters. And him focusing his energy on the right places and specifically focusing on his shots and also doing the little things for us on the defensive end, getting rebounds like he’s doing and he’s been doing all season, it works well for us.”

There’s more from Dallas:

  • The Mavericks have virtually remade their roster over the past 20 months, surrounding Doncic with a much better defensive team, observes Zach Lowe of ESPN (subscription required). Lowe suggests that the Thunder might be regretting the role they played in helping the Mavs acquire Daniel Gafford, who has provided an interior anchor for the defense. OKC traded a 2024 first-round pick to Dallas in February in exchange for the right to swap first-rounders in 2028. The Mavericks sent that pick to Washington as part of the Gafford deal.
  • Second-year shooting guard Jaden Hardy appears to have replaced Dante Exum in the Mavericks’ playoff rotation, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. Hardy played nearly 15 minutes in Game 5 and although he shot just 1-of-5 from the field, coach Jason Kidd was impressed by his overall game.
  • Kidd indicated that injured big man Maxi Kleber has a chance to return if Dallas reaches the conference finals, Townsend adds in a full story. Kleber suffered a right shoulder AC joint separation in a May 3 game and was scheduled to be reevaluated after three weeks. He was able to do some light shooting during Friday’s practice, Townsend adds.

Mavericks Notes: Washington, Gafford, Harrison, Clippers

During the Mavericks’ hard-fought 101-90 Game 3 victory over the Clippers on Friday, power forward P.J. Washington emerged as something of a cult hero for Dallas, providing tough defense and having the backs of his star players, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Washington’s tough, physical play eventually resulted in an ejection following a fracas with Clippers reserve guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook had pulled on All-Star Mavericks guard Luka Doncic‘s arm during a play, and the two subsequently got into it before Washington, who grew up in Dallas, stepped in.

“Always got to protect 77 at all costs,” Washington told MacMahon, referring to Doncic’s jersey number. “So I mean obviously it was a hard foul and then he pushed him afterwards, so I was right there and I just had to step into it.”

Washington and Westbrook were both kicked out of the contest following the dispute. Washington finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and three steals.

“The things he does, he’s a team player,” Doncic said. “He helps all of us. I’m just really happy we’ve got him on our team.”

There’s more out of Dallas:

  • The Mavericks became a sneaky playoff contender thanks to two relatively unheralded trade additions at the deadline, MacMahon writes in a separate piece. Rim-rolling big men Daniel Gafford and Washington have already made a big impact for Dallas on both ends of the hardwood, helping the club establish a frontline presence it had previously lacked. Team president Nico Harrison reflected on how the high-flying duo has made Dallas, up 2-1 against the loaded Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, a major threat in the West — not just this season, but beyond it, too. “It wasn’t really about winning right now,” Harrison told MacMahon. “It was just about continuing to build it. It’s like every step is, how do we continue to get better? And we’re not built for just right now; we’re built for the next three playoff runs.”
  • During their Game 3 victory, the Mavericks showcased the new, lob-heavy style of play that has made them so difficult to defeat thus far in the playoffs, writes Tim Cato of The Athletic. Dallas’ physicality, athleticism and strength has reinvigorated the team, a year after it missed the play-in tournament entirely. Dallas is allowing the Clippers to shoot just 51.6% at the rim in this series, thanks to the sturdy paint protection of newly-acquired Gafford and rookie Dereck Lively II.
  • Gafford explained how he shook off a disappointing first two games against the Clippers for an assertive early run in Game 3, per Mike Curtis of The Dallas Morning News. He notched eight points, four rebounds, three blocks and two steals in a defense-first performance, while playing through an ailing back. “Game 1, I got hit in the mouth. Game 2, my back almost gave out on me,” Gafford said. “From the time I’ve been in the league, I’ve learned not to pay attention to any of the outside noise… I pay attention to the inner circle, and that’s my team at the end of the day. We all we got. It’s us against the world. We’re one of the best teams in the league and we’re trying to fight for something.” Gafford is in the first season of a three-year, $40.2MM deal he inked while with the Wizards, and if he keeps up this play, he’ll be a steal.

Injury Notes: Leonard, Gafford, Lillard, G. Allen, Jackson

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard was listed as questionable heading into Friday’s Game 3 against Dallas due to right knee inflammation, but he was later upgraded to available, notes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN (via Twitter).

Leonard returned to action on Tuesday after being sidelined for three-plus week with the knee injury. He played 35 minutes in Game 2 and it’s unclear if two-time Finals MVP will be ready for more than that tonight.

Not sure yet,” head coach Tyronn Lue said on Thursday, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. “That’s something we got to talk about with medical. I’m not sure if the minutes will go up but he feels good.”

Leonard was understandable rusty in his first game back and needs to find his timing, Lue added, according to Janis Carr of The Orange County Register.

I think mentally he felt OK (thinking) ‘I got over that hurdle. I feel good. I can do this,’” Lue said of Leonard. “I’m hoping he continues that at the start of (Game 3).

Here are a few more injury notes from around the NBA:

  • After previously being listed as questionable, Mavericks center Daniel Gafford (back spasms) went through his pregame routine unscathed and will be active on Friday, the team announced (via Twitter). Gafford made a big impact for Dallas in the second half of the season after being acquired from Washington at the trade deadline.
  • Bucks guard Damian Lillard appeared to suffer a left knee injury in the first quarter of Friday’s Game 3 vs. Indiana after his heel area was accidentally landed on by Pascal Siakam (Twitter video link via ESPN). Lillard was in significant pain and went back to the locker room to get checked out, tweets Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. However, the eight-time All-Star returned to action at the start of the second quarter and remained in through the conclusion of the overtime loss, so evidently the injury isn’t a serious one.
  • Suns wing Grayson Allen, who sustained a right ankle sprain in Game 1 in Minnesota and then re-injured the ankle in Game 2, said he felt “better than expected” on Thursday, per Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports (Twitter link). Allen was a partial practice participant on Thursday and is questionable for Friday’s Game 3 in Phoenix. However, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 expressed doubt about his status tonight, tweeting that Sunday’s Game 4 looks like a more “realistic” return date.
  • Nuggets reserve guard Reggie Jackson was in a walking boot and using crutches on Friday, tweets Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette. Head coach Michael Malone said Jackson has a sprained ankle and he’ll be questionable for Saturday’s Game 4 vs. the Lakers, with the boot a “preventative” measure, according to Brendan Vogt of DNVR Sports (Twitter links).

Southwest Notes: Ryan, Morant, Grizzlies, Gafford, Mavs

When the Pelicans converted Matt Ryan from his two-way deal to a standard contract on the day before their regular season finale, they used their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal that paid him $1.5MM in guaranteed money for the final two days of this season, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.

In exchange for that substantial end-of-season payday, Ryan gave the Pelicans two additional years of low-cost control — he’s under contract for a non-guaranteed minimum salary ($2,196,970) in 2024/25, with a non-guaranteed minimum-salary team option ($2,381,501) for ’25/26.

Ryan’s salary for ’24/25 would become guaranteed if he remains under contract through the start of the regular season, but there are no trigger dates before that point, so New Orleans won’t necessarily need to make a decision on him until the fall.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Grizzlies guard Ja Morant is now being represented by Lift Management, according to a tweet from the agency. Morant reportedly parted ways with longtime agent Jim Tanner earlier this spring. The two-time All-Star has seen his stock drop following multiple suspensions for his off-court behavior, along with a shoulder injury that cost him nearly all of the 2023/24 season, but his maximum-salary contract runs for four more seasons.
  • Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal takes a look at what the Grizzlies want to see from their young players this summer, including projected Summer League participants like GG Jackson and Scotty Pippen Jr. As Cole observes, it’ll also a big offseason for Jake LaRavia, who will be entering his third NBA season, but it’s rare for former first-round picks to return for a third year of Summer League.
  • With center Daniel Gafford listed as questionable for Game 3 vs. the Clippers on Friday due to back spasms, the Mavericks could be forced to make a change to their starting lineup, writes Mike Curtis of The Dallas Morning News (subscription required). Dereck Lively would likely be the top candidate to move into the starting five, though Maxi Kleber – who has averaged 27.0 minutes per game so far in the series – would also play a major role. Dwight Powell and Markieff Morris are also in the mix as depth options.

Injury Notes: Middleton, Giannis, Kawhi, THJ, Gafford

Bucks wing Khris Middleton sustained a right ankle sprain in the first quarter of Tuesday’s Game 2 loss to Indiana. He wound up playing 36 minutes, but he didn’t practice on Thursday and head coach Doc Rivers said “there’s a little” concern about Middleton’s availability for Game 3 on Friday, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

It’s another holding our breath situation, so honestly, I don’t know,” Rivers said (Twitter link via Nehm).

Middleton has averaged 19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 5.0 APG while shooting 53.6% from the field through two games (35.5 MPG). Milwaukee would certainly miss the three-time All-Star if he’s unable to go on Friday, particularly with Giannis Antetokounmpo still out.

Here are a few more injury notes from around the NBA:

  • Speaking of Antetokounmpo, Rivers said the Bucks‘ two-time MVP was doing quite a bit of “shooting and moving” at Thursday’s practice. However, he was unable to go through live drills, as Nehm relays (via Twitter). Antetokoutnmpo was listed as doubtful before being ruled out prior to the first two games of the first-round series vs. the Pacers. The 29-year-old has been sidelined since April 9 due to a left calf strain.
  • Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue confirmed that Kawhi Leonard‘s knee responded well following Tuesday’s loss to Dallas, which was his first game back in three-plus weeks, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter links). Lue said Leonard will go through a non-contact practice on Thursday, Townsend adds. It’s unclear if the six-time All-Star will see even more minutes in Friday’s Game 3 after playing 35 a couple days ago.
  • Mavericks wing Tim Hardaway Jr. will be sidelined for Friday’s Game 3, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. “He’ll be evaluated in a few days,” head coach Jason Kidd said. Hardaway sprained his right ankle in Game 2 and didn’t play the entire second half. Starting center Daniel Gafford (back) did not practice on Thursday and is questionable for Friday’s game, Kidd added.
  • In case you missed it, the Lakers will still be without Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and Christian Wood (knee) for Thursday’s Game 3 vs. Denver. Both players had reportedly been aiming to return tonight.

Mavs Notes: Doncic, Irving, Kidd, Gafford, Adjustments

Luka Doncic believes he needs to be more assertive in the Mavericks’ first-round series against the Clippers. Los Angeles jumped to a 26-point halftime lead and cruised to a 109-97 win in Game 1 on Sunday.

“I just gotta stay aggressive. That was my bad,” Doncic said, per Mike Curtis of the Dallas Morning News. “In the first half, I wasn’t aggressive enough. I just gotta stay aggressive and find the open man.”

His backcourt partner has somewhat of an explanation for the team’s 30-point first half.

“We knew we were going to have to knock off some rust,” Kyrie Irving said. “Us as a team, we have guys that have missed three weeks, two weeks. [Tim Hardaway Jr.] not being with us for the past few days of preparation. I’m not saying those things are excuses, but internally, those things matter for the importance of what we’re getting ready for.”

We have more on the Mavs:

  • Jason Kidd, whose job security may hinge on how the team fares in the playoffs, had a simple explanation for the Game 1 defeat, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “They were physical and we were passive,” Kidd said. Dallas’ frontcourt was especially ineffective and Daniel Gafford, who tweaked his ankle during the contest, takes the blame. “I just didn’t come out ready to play, in all honesty,” he said. “I have to be better when it comes to me being a starter on the floor. I have to be able to be better in areas that I’ve always succeeded in throughout the regular season. I’ve got to come out and I’ve got to play playoff basketball, not what I showed out (Sunday).”
  • The Mavs failed to make adjustments on Sunday until it was too late, Tim Cato of The Athletic opines. It ultimately resulted in a wasted opportunity, since the Clippers are playing without Kawhi Leonard for the time being.
  • It may not have shown up in the opener, but Irving could be the ideal postseason partner for Doncic, Cato writes. When all goes well, the two guards might be the two best players on the floor for either side.

Mavs Notes: Washington, Gafford, THJ, Lively, Kidd, Harrison, Kyrie

Few NBA teams could argue they had a better trade deadline this season than the Mavericks, who fortified their rotation by acquiring P.J. Washington from Charlotte and Daniel Gafford from Washington. Dallas has been on a roll since those two new additions debuted on February 10, going 21-9 during that stretch, including a 16-2 run from March 7 to April 10.

Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News takes a closer look at how Washington, who grew up rooting for the Mavs, got to achieve a childhood dream by suiting up for his hometown team, while Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News (subscriber link) explores the impact Gafford has had since he arrived in Dallas.

As Sherrington writes, the Mavs are 18-3 in games Gafford has started, as he and Washington have helped turn the team into a genuine threat to make a playoff run. Six weeks ago, just avoiding the play-in and having a competitive first-round series might have been a realistic goal for the club, but now the Mavs looks like they could be the best team in the West besides Denver, Sherrington says.

Here’s more out of Dallas:

  • Veteran Mavs swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t practice on Friday due to an illness, but he’ll join the team in Los Angeles, per head coach Jason Kidd, and there’s no indication his availability for Sunday’s Game 1 is in jeopardy at this point. (Twitter link via Townsend). Kidd also said that big man Dereck Lively (knee) has looked good this week and is trending toward playing on Sunday.
  • Kidd and Nico Harrison are both in the third season of four-year contracts, according to Townsend, who opines in a Morning News column that the Mavs’ head coach and general manager have done enough this year to warrant contract extensions this offseason. Those decisions will be made by a new-look ownership group led by governor Patrick Dumont.
  • Kyrie Irving would have accepted an invitation to play for Team USA this summer if he had received one, but won’t hold any grudges for not being selected, telling reporters on Thursday that “the deliberation process was a tough one” for USA Basketball, as Mike Curtis of The Dallas Morning News relays. “I would’ve loved to, but I wish my brothers well and I just didn’t fit in to this team,” Irving said. “… At this point in my career, I think my focus should be on winning the championship and in the summertime, just going to support those guys when I get a chance.”

Mavericks Notes: Luka, Kyrie, Harrison, Kidd, More

During Wednesday’s matchup in Miami, which was a blowout win for Dallas, members of the Mavericks organization wore shirts saying “Pravi MVP,” which translates from Slovenian to English as real or true MVP, referencing the excellent season by Luka Doncic, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press.

Doncic, who has made the All-NBA First Team each of the past four seasons, is a top contender for the MVP award. However, it’s “generally expected” that Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will claim the trophy for the third time in the past four seasons, Reynolds notes.

While he may not win his first MVP in 2023/24, Doncic’s coaches and teammates certainly think he deserves it.

He’s the real MVP. … I think his resume is better than anybody else’s resume,” forward P.J. Washington said. “I don’t feel like there’s a complete argument that anybody had a better season this year.”

Here’s more on the Mavs:

  • Eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving earned a $1MM bonus on Wednesday for a combination of playing 50-plus games and the Mavs winning their 50th game, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The bonus was considered unlikely since Dallas only won 38 games last season. As Marks observes, Irving’s cap hit for 2023/24 will now be $38.04MM, and his ’24/25 figure will be adjusted up to $41MM. Irving has been instrumental in the team’s success this season, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link), who notes that Dallas is 39-19 when Irving plays, including 24-7 over his past 31 appearances.
  • In an interview with Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (subscription required), Mavs general manager Nico Harrison discussed a number of topics, including the job performance of head coach Jason Kidd and his staff. Harrison praised Kidd, who reportedly has one more year left on his contract and hopes to sign an extension with Dallas this offseason. “The coaches have done a great job,” Harrison told Townsend. “One, when you have two superstar players, first and foremost, getting those guys to play together at a high level and respect each other’s play and to play together, you always have to take a little bit off your game for the success of the team. To be able to do that is remarkable. Jason and his staff have done that at a high level. We’re not successful if that doesn’t happen.”
  • Regarding the trade-deadline acquisitions of Washington and center Daniel Gafford, Harrison said that while the two players were high on Dallas’ priority list, the front office was also working on multiple other deals at the time in case talks fell apart. He said he’s been pleased with how the two veterans have fit in thus far, according to Townsend. “I think if you go back to last year, the exit interview that we did, admittedly we didn’t do what we wanted to do,” Harrison said as part of a larger quote. “But we didn’t have the right players around those two guys (Doncic and Irving). We feel like we started that during the summer, getting longer, getting more athletic, getting better defensively. And then also in the draft with (Dereck) Lively. And then we just continue. The message hasn’t changed. The goal hasn’t changed. Now you do it with P.J., now you do it with Gafford. We’ve just continued with building it the same way that we talked about.”

Texas Notes: Smith, Whitmore, Sochan, Doncic

Rockets power forward/center Jabari Smith Jr. was suspended one game by the NBA following a physical fracas with Jazz point guard Kris Dunn. According to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle, the Auburn alum admitted he was surprised by the decision at first.

“I wasn’t expecting it until they told me the rules,” Smith said. “I deserved it. That’s in the rule book… It’s not worth it… You hurt your team being ejected and then with a suspension.”

The Rockets did win the game Smith missed, a 110-92 victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday, and have since extended their league-best winning streak to 10 games. At 37-35, Houston is just one game behind the tenth-seeded Warriors for a spot in the West’s play-in tournament bracket.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Rockets head coach Ime Udoka told reporters this week that rookie swingman Cam Whitmore‘s recovery from his current knee injury is progressing faster than his initially projected timeline, Feigen reports in another piece. “He’s going to get the contact portion eventually and progressing from spot shooting to moving to contact moving will be next, but we’ll see when that is,” Udoka said. “He heals fast and so he’ll probably beat the three-week diagnosis.” The small forward has enjoyed a productive inaugural pro season off the bench with Houston. He’s averaging 12.1 PPG on .464/.361/.670 shooting splits, plus 3.9 RPG.
  • Second-year Spurs power forward Jeremy Sochan seems to be settling into a groove as one of the peskier defenders in the NBA, writes Nick Moyle of The San Antonio Express-News. Moyle notes that Sochan has been limiting opposing players to shooting percentages that are 5.7% worse than their averages since the All-Star break. “I think it’s just remembering what they like, what they don’t like, how they like being guarded,” Sochan said of his defensive approach. “Watching even other players guard them, especially in the playoffs, because playoffs are a different level, especially with how aggressive people are. You see how some players don’t like it when you are up against them and making it difficult for them to dribble the ball. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But it’s just reading and reacting to who I am guarding and learning from them.”
  • The Mavericks are riding high of late, having gone 17-6 across their last 23 games. The team has ranked in the top 10 on both ends of the floor during that run and now controls the West’s No. 6 seed, just 1.5 games behind the No. 4 Clippers. According to The Athletic’s Tim Cato, All-Star guard Luka Doncic has embraced a more deferential game. Cato writes that Doncic’s pick-and-roll chemistry with new starting center Daniel Gafford and rookie reserve Dereck Lively II have really helped expand the team’s offensive arsenal.

Mavs Notes: Doncic, THJ, Gafford, Green

MVP candidate Luka Doncic didn’t travel to Oklahoma City with the Mavericks for Thursday’s game against the Thunder, but head coach Jason Kidd shared a positive update on the superstar’s left hamstring injury, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (subscription required).

An MRI performed on Doncic’s hamstring “came back clean,” Kidd told reporters, adding that it’s “great news” and that the NBA’s leading scorer will be reevaluated when the team is back in Dallas.

The Mavericks are off Friday and Saturday before hosting the Nuggets on Sunday afternoon. It sounds like there’s at least a chance that Doncic will be able to return for that game.

Here’s more on the Mavs:

  • Dallas’ loss to the Thunder on Thursday dropped the club’s record to 3-6 without Doncic this season, but Kidd suggested prior to the game that there’s a silver lining to not having the star guard available. “There’s not one person who can make up for Luka. This is a great test for us,” Kidd said, per Townsend. “We’ve had injuries before, playing without Luka and (Kyrie Irving). So this gives us another chance others to step up and do their job.” Tim Hardaway Jr. stepped up on Thursday with one of his best games in weeks, posting 21 points and nine rebounds, Townsend notes.
  • A missed put-back attempt by Daniel Gafford early in Thursday’s game ended the big man’s streak of 33 consecutive made field goal attempts, Townsend observes. It was the second-longest streak in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain‘s 35 straight in 1967. “I’m smiling ear-to-ear on the insides, just because of the simple fact that I had a chance to (break Chamberlain’s record),” said Gafford, who’s shooting an incredible 77.4% (72-of-93) since joining the Mavs at last month’s trade deadline. “And it’s not my only chance. I know for a fact — I don’t know how many games we’ve got left this season — but I’m for sure gonna try to do that before the regular season is over with, no doubt.”
  • Mavericks wing Josh Green left Thursday’s game in the first quarter due to a right ankle sprain (story via The Dallas Morning News). Kidd told reporters that X-rays on Green’s came back negative, but it remains possible that he’ll have to miss some time as a result of the injury.