DALLAS – Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are just two games into figuring out how to be co-stars for the Dallas Mavericks, who are behind schedule based on last season's surge that sparked a deep playoff run.
The Mavericks have no choice but to win games while working out the kinks because of a tightly packed Western Conference.
There's roughly a three-game difference between home-court advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs altogether, and second-year coach Jason Kidd accepts that reality a year after a strong second half that sent the Mavs on their way to the West finals.
“This would be a good time to have that kick, but again, with Kai, we’re still getting to know each other,” Kidd said Wednesday as the club returned from the All-Star break with a practice a day before starting a six-game homestand against San Antonio.
With that, Kidd smiled and referred to the last time Doncic and Irving were on the court together with the Mavs, when they passed back and forth multiple times and didn't get a shot off in the final seconds of a 124-121 loss to Minnesota.
“There’s going to be some times when you can see those two out there playing catch with one another,” Kidd said. “Hopefully that’s over. One of them will shoot the ball, I guarantee.”
Irving missed the last game before the break with back tightness, and solo Doncic wasn't enough in a 118-109 loss at Denver when Dallas trailed by as many as 21 points.
Doncic was out for Irving debut's because of a heel injury that sidelined him for four games. The pair is 0-2 together, but barring injury, Dallas can expect Doncic and Irving to be together on the court in most, if not all, of its 22 remaining games.
Center Dwight Powell is one of the starters tasked with helping the new pairing work.
“At the end of the day, I've just got to be ready for the opportunities they're creating because they gravity of those two is insane,” Powell said. “Having them out there at the same time, I really got to be ready for a multitude of situations, and their creativity means I have to be making decisions on the fly.
“It’s a lot of film. It’s getting used to guys in practice. But it’s one of those things that comes with time. Looking forward to how we all kind of grow together over these next few games.”
A year ago, the Mavs started their surge around the new year, finishing fourth in the West and beating Utah twice without an injured Doncic in a six-game series win in the first round.
After blowing out Phoenix on the road in Game 7 of the West semifinals, Dallas lost to Golden State in five before the Warriors won the title.
The roster wasn't quite the same this season after Jalen Brunson, a huge part of the first-round win over Utah, left for New York in free agency. A similar surge hasn't happened.
There's plenty of time for the Mavs to get back to where they finished in the standings last season, maybe even higher, if their All-Star tandem can reach its potential.
“It’s beautiful to watch someone so creative play the game the way he does,” Powell said, referring to Irving but aware he's been watching something similar from Doncic for five seasons. “To have two guys that are at that level of mastery is exciting for us around them and gives us a crazy amount of firepower. It's on us to remain ready.”
Irving had 32 points, a game-high 15 assists and played a Team LeBron-high 29 minutes in a 184-175 All-Star Game loss to Team Giannis. Doncic, a fellow Team LeBron starter, played 19 minutes and scored four points.
Now the numbers will be more similar — both scored in the 20s in their debut together and in the 30s against the Timberwolves. And both will be pushing 40 minutes per game, another issue for Kidd to sort out.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old Doncic probably won't play every minute after halftime, which he has done several times while remaining neck-and-neck with Philadelphia's Joel Embiid in the scoring race.
“For Kai, I think it's just a matter of the time spent on and off the floor with the guys,” Kidd said. “With the break, everybody kind of goes their separate way. We've got 22 games left. Now it's just about connecting not only on the floor but off the floor. He's an adult. He knows how to do that.”
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