Luka Doncic is quite possibly on his way to becoming a superstar of the same level and he's already had a couple of good games in MSG. But tomorrow, when the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Knicks square off at 7:30 AM on NBA League Pass, Doncic needs to be great. Dallas has needed Doncic to be great for much of this season. In his third NBA season, Luka has been phenomenal with averages of 28.7 points on 48.8 percent shooting with 8.9 assists and 8.1 rebounds.
Those numbers should have him squarely in the MVP conversation, but the Mavericks haven’t lived up to preseason expectations. At 25-21, the Mavs are seventh in the West trailing the 29-18 Portland Trailblazers for sixth place and an outright spot in the playoffs. If the regular season ended today, the Mavs would need to go through the madness of the play-in tournament to make the playoffs.
Dallas has simply not afforded any cold outing from Doncic. With Kristaps Porzingis' injuries and not having a genuine second perimeter scoring threat, the Mavericks have had to roll dice with one of their shooters getting hot to provide support for Doncic every game. Still, the Mavericks have gotten hot lately, winning seven of their last 12 games and bringing their offensive rating up to 11th. The defense, however, has been a consistently big letdown as Dallas ranks 23rd in defensive rating.
On the other hand, defense has been the New York Knicks’ calling card this season. Under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks have summoned the spirit of their ‘90s teams in grounding opposing offenses to a halt. The Knicks are dead last in pace, third in defensive rating, allowing the least points in the league. The Knicks have imposed their style of play consistently every game, shunning the beautiful fast-paced modern game and embracing the grueling defensive struggles of the ‘90s and early 2000s.
On offense, the Knicks found their new star in Julius Randle. Making his first All-Star team this year, Randle has been an all-around threat, averaging 23.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He's added so much to his game like his passing and scorching touch from deep (41.9 percent on five attempts per game) that it allowed the Knicks to run their offense around him.
The Knicks have also scrounged contributions from up and down their roster. Sophomore RJ Barrett continues to develop into a premier slashing threat. Immanuel Quickley, meanwhile, has proven to be the Knicks’ best drafted point guard since Mark Jackson.
At this point in the season, the Knicks need every win they can grab. At 24-24, they are sixth in the East, tied with the Atlanta Hawks, holding a slim margin for an outright playoff berth over the Boston Celtics (23-25) and the Indiana Pacers (21-25). No team wants to go through the uncertainty of a play-in tournament.
With both the Mavs and the Knicks in similar spots in their respective conferences, expect a tight game between teams sprinting towards the playoffs. The Knicks don’t have a big defensive wing that can outright stop Doncic, but they can scheme to make the game harder for him and the rest of the Mavs. If the Mavs keep it close down the stretch, expect Doncic to take over like he has been doing throughout Dallas’ road trip.