As the playoffs end, Luka Doncic says improving his defense can take the Dallas Mavericks ‘to the next level’

As the playoffs end, Luka Doncic says improving his defense can take the Dallas Mavericks ‘to the next level’

SAN FRANCISCO — Luka Doncic’s first reaction to the end of the longest playoff series of his young NBA career was to express his disappointment.

“I don’t like losing, especially like this,” Doncic said after the Dallas Mavericks eliminated Thursday night with a 120-110 Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors. “I played badly.”

Doncic finished his final game of the season with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but it was a performance well below his lofty standards, especially in potential elimination games. He was just 10 of 28 from the floor, including 3 of 13 from 3-point range, and often failed to get back on defense after his misses.

Doncic scored 15 points as the Mavs rallied in the third quarter, but Dallas couldn’t overcome a deficit that swelled to 25 points in part because of his poor first-half performance, as he was only 2 of 12 off the ground. with three turnovers.

Nonetheless, it was the 10th time in these playoffs that Doncic led Dallas in points, rebounds and assists, breaking the record set by LeBron James in 2013 for the most such outings in a single playoff series. He averaged 31.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists to lead the Mavericks, who last won a playoff series in the franchise championship in 2011, to the Conference Finals. West.

“If we talk about our season, I’m really proud of this team – everyone, every player, every staff member,” said Doncic. “Nobody had us here. But I promise you we fought until the end. Congratulations to the Warriors. They were obviously the better team. But I’m really proud of this team.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr described Doncic as “impossible to keep”. At 23, Doncic has already proven to be a historically elite offensive threat in the playoffs, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to average at least 30 points per game in each of their first three playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. .

Doncic said he was confident the Mavs were “on the right path” to becoming a championship team, but he said he needed to make significant progress defensively for the team to reach those heights.

“I think the defense has got to be a lot better for me,” said Doncic, who was frequently targeted by opponents in the playoffs. “Honestly, I think I’ve made a big step forward this year defensively, but there’s so much room for improvement. I have to be much better there. I think that’s a place that can take us to the next level.”

Doncic also discussed the “great relationship” he developed with Mavs first-year coach Jason Kidd, a Hall of Fame point guard whose on-field leadership played a key role in the Mavs’ only title. Mavs. He underlined his confidence in Kidd, who has publicly challenged Doncic a few times this season, such as calling him out for arguing with the referees instead of coming back to defense and challenging him to ‘come in’ on defense .

Doncic earned his third straight All-NBA First Team selection despite having to get fit. He showed up to training camp weighing over 260 pounds for the second season in a row, and he only played as an MVP contender after taking three weeks off in December to recover from recurring sprains. the ankle and work on conditioning it.

Kidd didn’t specifically mention Doncic during the post-game message he delivered to the Mavs in the locker room, but it seemed to be aimed at the superstar, who will spend much of the offseason playing. for the Slovenian national team.

“Now that’s about, what’s our appetite for next season?” Kidd said. “Are we going to start the season on tiptoe or are we going to be hungry? So, are we going to train this summer to understand what it means to play in May and June? Because it’s a long season. “

Doncic has made steady improvements since his Rookie of the Year campaign, like adding a Dirk Nowitzki-style one-legged fadeaway and polishing his floater. Mavs management expects Doncic to return to Dallas with even more.

“That’s what the big guys do,” Mavs governor Mark Cuban said. “He’s a top three, top two player in this league, and he’ll keep improving. Some guys, who they are is who they are. It’s not Luka. Luka will keep improving. improve.”

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