Setting the stage this week is Dallas Mavericks superstar guard Luka Doncic, who rebounded Wednesday from one of his worst performances of the season at New Orleans to generate a 26-point, 10-assist gem at Washington on the second night of a back-to-back set without Kyrie Irving (left foot).
Doncic racked up 21 first-half points in culling his NBA-best sixth 20-point half of the season.
One stat to know: 6-0 — The Mavs remain the league’s only undefeated team (6-0) in clutch time (minutes played with the scoring margin within five points with five minutes or fewer remaining) in large part because of Doncic.
The four-time All-Star is 5-for-7 from deep this season in clutch time. Dallas played 55 clutch outings in 2022-23, finishing 26-29 with the four-time All-Star shooting 7-for-36 from range.
Another stat to know: 73% — Through Thursday, the Mavs are 9-3 and in second place in the Western Conference. That record has been built, in part, on clutch play, as the Mavs are the only undefeated team (6-0) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. That’s a big reversal of fortune from last season when they struggled in close games after acquiring Kyrie Irving.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Doncic is the team’s leading clutch scorer, with more clutch points (25) than any two teammates combined, having shot 8-for-11, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range with the score within five in the last five. What may be a surprise is how poorly Doncic had shot on clutch 3s (38-for-166, 22.3%) prior to this season.
Luka Doncic clutch 3-point shooting
Clutch = Game within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime
Through Nov. 16, 2023
Doncic does take tougher 3-pointers that most players, and he’s 6-for-12 on clutch 3s in the playoffs. But this early-season success is something new. — John Schuhmann
What they’re saying: “Luka and that group set the tone, understanding getting in at 4 [o’clock] in the morning, the [potential] excuses of being tired or scheduling. The maturity, the trust, to execute, I thought they did a great job from the start.” – Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd.
And now, the top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 30.0 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 8.4 apg
His case: Good luck unseating the two-time Kia MVP, who just put together his fourth consecutive game with 30 points or more, a streak that ranks as the second-longest of his career. Jokic enters Denver’s upcoming five-game road trip having put up 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in the season-opening 11 consecutive outings.
The plot thickens in New Orleans on Friday for Denver’s third In-Season Tournament matchup.
2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Season stats: 30.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.1 apg
His case: Doncic leads the league’s second-highest scoring offense (123.4 points per game), and he’s made subtle changes, such as taking more catch-and-shoot 3s, that have yielded significant results in helping to push Dallas’ pace to No. 5 in the league.
With 58 career triple-doubles, the Slovenian needs only one more to tie Larry Bird for ninth all-time in NBA history. Tough.
3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 31.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 5.8 apg
His case: Named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the 12th time, Embiid scored a season-low 20 points in Wednesday’s loss to Boston as Philadelphia dropped consecutive games for the first time. The contest snapped a three-game streak in which the reigning MVP hit at least 10 free throws.
But he should rebound at Atlanta on Friday, having averaged 25.3 points in 16 regular-season games against the Hawks.
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 28.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.1 apg
His case: As some faces change around him due to injuries and personal matters early in the season, Tatum remains a Celtics constant as just the 15th player in league history to score 10,000 points before the age of 26. He’s played in all 11 of Boston’s games.
Tatum leads the 1-0 Celtics into Toronto on Friday for another Group C matchup of the In-Season Tournament.
5. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week’s ranking: No. 5
Season stats: 28.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.0 apg
His case: The leader of the NBA’s third-youngest team, Gilgeous-Alexander followed up a 28-point, seven-steal night against San Antonio with 24 points and seven assists Thursday in a win at Golden State to tip off a three-game road trip.
The 25-year-old has scored 30 points or more in seven games. But make no mistake, he’ll pick your pocket. Gilgeous-Alexander entered the win over the Warriors leading the league in steals (2.6).
The Next Five:
6. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week: No. 7)
7. Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers (Last week: No. 9)
8. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week: Not ranked)
9. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat (Last week: Not ranked)
10. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week: Not ranked)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns; Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks; Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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