Clippers reminded in loss why Luka Doncic is the Mavericks’ unquestioned leader

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic controls the ball in front of Clippers guard Reggie Jackson.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic controls the ball in front of Clippers guard Reggie Jackson in the Clippers’ 112-105 loss Thursday.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Kristaps Porzingis was still a Dallas Maverick and blue-and-green posters featuring his picture covered nearly every seat inside American Airlines Center when he walked off the arena floor he has called homecourt for three years a little before 10:50 a.m. Thursday.

Within three hours, as the NBA’s trade deadline passed, arena workers collected the Porzingis posters and took them to garbage cans and Porzingis had been pictured checking his phone while at a Dallas sandwich shop, potentially learning mid-order he’d been traded to Washington.

Few rosters felt the shift of incoming and outgoing parts on deadline day quite like the Mavericks, who are now searching for a new running mate for All-Star wunderkind Luka Doncic. Porzingis may have been the face on the arena’s seats, but Doncic is the franchise’s undisputed face and future, the kind of talent who erupted for 28 first-quarter points and a career-high 51 overall Thursday in a 112-105 win against the Clippers to tie Dallas’ franchise record for points in a non-overtime game.


The Clippers wound up making their biggest move ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline before acquiring Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeyele on Thursday.

The Clippers’ third consecutive loss tied their season’s longest losing streak, and it featured the first time an opponent had scored 50 or more points since James Harden in 2017. The Clippers missed seven free throws and in the fourth quarter seven shots in the paint.

The Clippers never led thanks to Doncic’s early barrage in which he continually sought out mismatches against center Ivica Zubac, as he had done in last season’s first-round postseason series, and made a franchise-record seven three-pointers in the quarter — more than the Clippers’ starters made the entire game. Wanting Doncic to beat them alone while limiting his teammates, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged that he allowed Doncic to switch onto Zubac too often in the first quarter.

“Seven threes is way too much in a quarter,” Lue said. “I didn’t think he would get that hot.”

Marcus Morris Sr. scored 21 points and Norman Powell scored 19, and despite injuring an ankle in the third quarter, he returned to close out the game as the Clippers cut what was a 17-point deficit to three with seven minutes remaining behind blitzing Doncic more often and small-ball lineups — another callback to last season’s first-round series. The adjustment, which began with 16 minutes left, turned around the series and this game and Lue now has the runway to deploy more lineups as he has wanted to after the Clippers’ own Thursday trade that sent Serge Ibaka, the third center in Lue’s rotation, to Milwaukee as part of a four-team deal.

“You hate to lose guys like that, guys with championship pedigree,” said Lue, who said he didn’t turn to smaller lineups earlier because new additions Powell and Robert Covington aren’t yet up to speed on the team’s small-ball sets.

The Clippers received Milwaukee wings Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood as part of the deal that also involved Detroit and Sacramento. But they’d fired most of their trade powder six days earlier by adding Powell and Covington, two more wings, from Portland, a move that set up Powell and the injured Kawhi Leonard (knee) and Paul George (elbow) as the Clippers’ three-wing core for the future.

Leonard watched from the Clippers’ sideline, a rare road game he has attended this season while recovering from surgery. The trade that sent out Ibaka created a traded-player exception worth $9.7 million, which can be used to take in additional salary at a later date, and also trimmed $31 million off their luxury-tax bill, which stands at $82 million. It also shouldn’t be confused with the team’s last move this season.

The Clippers (27-30) currently have the maximum 15 standard contracts, but roster construction remains fluid as the buyout market opens. There is a chance either one or both of Hood and Ojeleye will stick with the roster going forward, but the team will also continue to weigh other opportunities that might emerge, according to people with knowledge of the team’s thinking not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. No decision is deemed imminent. With the potential returns of the Leonard and George still unknown, the Clippers remain motivated to compete for playoff success this season.

With limited options, the Lakers were unable to make any moves before the NBA trade deadline at noon PST Thursday. They’ll focus now on buyout market.

The 6-foot-6 Ojeleye was a second-round pick in 2017 and is a 34% three-point shooter for his career, with averages of 2.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 26% shooting from deep this season with the Bucks. The 6-8 Hood, once coached by Lue in Cleveland, was in his first season with Milwaukee, where he had made 30% of his three-pointers and 35% of his field goals while averaging 14.9 minutes off the bench. Both players’ contract expires after this season.

Another decision awaiting the Clippers is what to do with reserve forward Amir Coffey, a vital part of their rotation since George’s injury in December. Coffey is on a two-way contract and only players on a standard deal are postseason-eligible. The Clippers would need to clear one roster spot to convert Coffey to a standard contract.