Sports-Column Repost #1

On the Mark: Mavericks and Doncic Fan Looks Back Fondly
By Mark Lorenzana

(Originally posted on May 6, 2022, in PNM)

The good news: The Dallas Mavericks have reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2022 National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs after defeating their first-round opponent, the gutsy but outgunned Utah Jazz, in six games.

The bad news: As of this writing, they are currently down two games to none against their second-round opponent, the Phoenix Suns, after losing a second consecutive game last Wednesday night, May 4, at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

It goes without saying that the Mavericks’ star player, Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic, desperately needs help from his other teammates if they are to win even one game as they head back to their home court, American Airlines Center, in Dallas, Texas, for the next two games.

I was watching the game the other night on TV when they lost, where Doncic scored 35 points, dished out seven assists, and grabbed five rebounds but didn’t get much support. The result was a 20-point shellacking (109-129) that leaves the Mavericks scrambling for answers that doesn’t involve Doncic playing lone gunman and trying to do everything on his own.

As much as I was disappointed and wanted to rant to my wife, I resisted the urge because she was also in a bad mood. She’s a huge football fan and her favorite team, Club Universidad Nacional AC (often simply known as UNAM and their nickname Pumas, a football club based here in Mexico City representing the National Autonomous University of Mexico for the La Primera División de México, or Liga MX), also lost that night in the finals of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Champions League, at Lumen Field in Seattle, Washington. Pumas UNAM dropped three goals to their opponent and Major League Soccer (MLS) counterpart Seattle Sounders FC — and never scored! — to my wife’s chagrin, so this Dallas Mavericks fan had to lick his wounds on his own and find something to do to cheer himself up.

So instead, I decided to look back (with the help of YouTube) on that festive night in December 2019, more than two years ago — and before the official start of the covid-19 pandemic — when Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks came to town for the 2019 NBA Mexico City Games to face Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons, and I was fortunate enough to be able to soak it all in (unmasked) with my wife, live, at the Arena Ciudad de México.


“Hola, México, ¿Cómo estáis? Es un placer para nosotros estar aquí. Muchas gracias por su recibimiento, y espero que disfruten el juego. Y una cosa mas: ¡Viva México, guey! (“Hello, Mexico, how are you? It’s a pleasure for us to be here. Thank you very much for welcoming us. We hope you enjoy the game, and one more thing: Viva Mexico, guey!”)

Doncic was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on Feb. 28, 1999, but at age 16 had already laced up his sneakers for Real Madrid Baloncesto, a professional basketball team playing in Spain domestically in the Liga Endesa and internationally in the EuroLeague. So he’s fluent in Spanish, which is why, naturally, the Mavericks chose him to address the crowd that night before tip-off. When he uttered those words in Spanish the Mexican crowd went wild, but not as wild as when Doncic finally took the floor and gave the fans a dose of what resident Dallas Mavericks’ play-by-play announcer Mark Followill fondly calls “Luka Magic” during live broadcasts.

I can’t stress this enough: You have to watch Doncic in person to appreciate how great he is as a basketball player. Watching him on TV doesn’t do him — or what he brings to the table — justice.

At six feet and seven inches and weighing at least 230 pounds, Doncic stands five inches taller than the average NBA point guard and outweighs him by 40 pounds. Imagine a power forward who can score at all three levels — shooting the three, pulling up from mid-range and driving to the cup — who is also a superb ballhandler, pinpoint passer and tenacious rebounder.

And so it wasn’t surprising when Doncic gave the Detroit Pistons all they could handle that night at the Arena Ciudad de México, as he finished the game with a triple-double of 41 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. But it was the way he racked up those stats that gave the fans their money’s worth.

He scored his first points on a three-pointer. As he was bringing the ball up and crossed the half-court line, Doncic lost his man with the help of a solid screen from Mavericks starting center, Latvian Kristaps Porzingis. Doncic lost a second help defender by dribbling the ball between his legs and stepping back behind the arc, where he proceeded to pull up and swished the three-point shot.

To the delight of the crowd, the next several Doncic plays looked like the usual highlight reel NBA fans have been accustomed to seeing from the Slovenian: repeated straight-line drives and finishes to the rim with little resistance, bullet passes to teammates for open looks, Doncic effortlessly weaving his way in and out against various defenders and then pulling up from mid-range or several feet from the three-point line, and snatching rebounds in the paint against bigger opponents.

Doncic and the Mavericks led the Pistons by as much as 24 points in the third quarter, but ended the game with a 122-111 victory against Detroit.

When the Mavericks played here in Mexico, Doncic was just two months shy of his 21st birthday. Since then, he has been voted twice more to the NBA All Star Game, has been chosen to two All-NBA First Team selections, and has reached the NBA playoffs two more times.


After the blow-out loss to the Phoenix Suns last Wednesday night, former Dallas Mavericks point guard and NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, the current Mavericks head coach, had this to say: “Luka had a great game, but no one else showed. We can’t win with just him out there scoring 30 a night, not at this time of the year.”

I agree, as I already pointed out at the beginning of this column. Doncic can’t win this series on his own.

In a testament to his growing maturity as a player and a leader, however, Doncic owned up to the loss.

“I think it’s mostly on me. But I think we got to trust ourselves better. I think the way we did it in Utah, obviously it’s not the same team, but I think we trusted ourselves better against Utah. I think we got to fix a lot of things.”

The future of the Dallas Mavericks is bright with Luka Doncic leading the way, and this MFFL (Mavs Fan for Life) can’t wait for the day the team (hopefully) comes to town again for another installment of the NBA Mexico City Games.

 
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