Mind the gap: Phoenix Suns show edge over Dallas Mavericks


Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks led for much of Thursday’s game against the Suns, but Phoenix pulled away down the stretch and won, 109-101.


The last time the Dallas Mavericks played a home game that was televised by TNT, color analyst Reggie Miller basically called Luka Doncic fat.

Miller’s partner in studio, Charles Barkley, was equally candid about the state of the team, and Doncic.

“I hate to see Dallas wasting this kid’s career,” Barkley said. “They ain’t no good.”

That commentary came during the Mavs’ 102-99 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 7, a game that dropped their record to 11-12.

Reggie was right, and it was Chuck at his wonderfully-dramatic best.

A little more than a month later, and the best studio crew in sports sounded dramatically different about the state of the Mavericks.

On Thursday night, Barkley, Miller, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal all praised the Mavs for their improvement since that early December game.

No team in the NBA has made a bigger improvement in the last month more than the Dallas Mavericks, and it just does not mean they are one of the best teams in the NBA.

Extracting meaning from one game in an NBA regular season schedule that feels longer than consecutive Russian winters is foolish, but the Phoenix Suns showed the Mavericks what the best-team-in-the-NBA looks like, and it’s not Luka Doncic and his buddies.

Guard Chris Paul and the Suns used a 20-4 run to close out the game and defeated the Mavs, 109-101, on Thursday night at the American Airlines Center.

The Mavs (26-20) came into the game having won 10 of 11, and defensively they have put together one of the best stretches in recent memory. They have held 22 straight opponents to less than 50 percent shooting.

The Mavs look like a middle-of-the-West playoff team, but without some more help they are not going to defeat a Phoenix, or Golden State, in a playoff series. The Suns (35-9) have now won nine straight games against the Mavericks.

“The [Suns] are No. 1, No. 2 in the league. I feel like we’re right there,” center Kristaps Porzingis told reporters after the game. “That’s up to us to prove to that level, and to keep playing this way.”

The Mavericks are currently fifth in the West, and are currently playing better than at any previous point since Doncic came to the team in 2018.

First-year coach Jason Kidd is using Porzingis more like his days when he was with the New York Knicks.

“I like Porzingis in the post more; he’s going to the basket more,” Barkley said. “That’s been my biggest criticism of him the last three years. He’s like a lot of these big guys in the NBA who listen to these analytical fools. Dude, you’re 7-feet tall. If you’ve got a 6-foot-5 guarding you, why wouldn’t you go to the post?

“I like seeing that. I love that addition to his game.”

This stretch of games has given the Mavericks a visible level of confidence this team has lacked, even last season.

“It’s a swag thing, you know?” Porzingis said. “We have the same guys, but if you start building something, the internal confidence keeps growing and you develop a little more ‘sauce.’ I think we are on our way to that.”

As evidenced by their play in January, where they have lost just twice, he’s right.

As evidenced by Thursday’s game against the Suns, the Mavs have some more miles to go.

The Mavericks are a nice team that has proven it can stop people, but they need one more player. It’s why you hear the Mavs mentioned so frequently in trade speculation.

The Mavs are still the hottest team in the NBA, but the Suns showed them why they are the best team.

This story was originally published January 20, 2022 9:49 PM.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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