Did the Dallas Mavericks midseason trade for Willie Cauley-Stein elevate them to a title contender?
Death, taxes, and fans overreacting to their favorite NBA team losing games. Last Sunday night, the Dallas Mavericks’ record stood at 2-4. They lost a game to the Chicago Bulls. albeit without Luka Doncic playing because of a right quad contusion. Calls to fire head coach Rick Carlisle were ablaze all over Twitter because fans couldn’t get over the fact that Dwight Powell was in the starting lineup. (More on this later)
Monday night comes and a shakeup seems to be in place. Maxi Kleber and Willie Cauley-Stein are replacing Tim Hardaway Jr and Dwight Powell in the starting lineup. Perhaps this change was to attack a smaller frontcourt in PJ Tucker and Christian Wood with two equal athletic and bigger players? Perhaps it was just a move that needed to be experimented with?
Dallas wins 113-100 and MFFLs go back to cheering with glee as the team beat an intra-state rival who now employs a former student of Rick Carlisle’s, head coach Stephen Silas. Seeing something new struck an accord with the fanbase and everyone, the team included was hoping the success would carry over.
It is now Thursday night, three nights since the Mavericks have played a basketball game and the team starts out extremely sluggish. Going into half the Denver Nuggets held a nine-point lead. In some ways, it was impressive that Dallas was only losing by nine. The team had turned the ball over nine times and shot 33 percent from the field, including 19 percent from behind the three-point line.
The big man duo that everyone loved a game ago had combined for four points, one block, one assist, eight rebounds, and one turnover. Kleber and Cauley-Stein were unable to take advantage of Denver Nuggets All-Star Center Nikola Jokic having three personal fouls because Cauley-Stein had three of his own.
The second half started and the offense started to open up. Luka Doncic stopped looking as sluggish as he did in the first half, the team started passing the ball more, and ultimately were just shooting better. Maxi Kleber, who missed his lone field goal attempt in the first half, took three three-point shots in the fourth quarter and converted all of them, one of which was a go-ahead bucket with 2.2 seconds left.
The big men combined to score one point in overtime but Kleber had a crucial block on Nikola Jokic and the two outrebounded the Nuggets in overtime. The magic that was there in Houston finally found its way to Denver giving the Mavericks a much-needed win against a playoff team.
So what is it about Cauley-Stein and Kleber together that seems to be working with the starting lineup?