DALLAS — One of the Mavericks’ first big gatherings this season came in mid-May, when they had a free night in Memphis and met at a local outdoor patio for pizza, pandemic-safe relaxation and games of cornhole.
JJ Redick hadn’t spent much time around his teammates since joining the Mavericks at the late-March trade deadline, so forgive him if he shouldn’t have challenged Doncic at the bean bag toss.
He knows better now.
Redick lost $2,000 to Doncic that night and learned what other Mavericks had discovered before him and what they want everyone watching their first-round series against the Clippers to know now:
Don’t bet against Luka Doncic.
Doncic’s massive stat lines in the last two weeks have powered the Mavericks to a 3-2 first-round series lead over the Clippers. They can seal the franchise’s first trip to the second round since 2011 with a victory either Friday night in American Airlines Center or Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
Few predicted the Mavericks would be in control against the title-expectant Clippers, especially after an early-season COVID-19 outbreak and losing slog, nagging injuries to key players, and a matchup against the team that eliminated them in six games last August.
But stories about bets Doncic has made — and won — since arriving in Dallas illustrate that his flair and penchant to thrive against statistically improbable odds extend from the half-court line to everyday life.
The Clippers are now in position to be the next victim.
“Luka rises to the occasion, regardless” Dwight Powell said after Doncic’s 42-point, 14-assist performance in Game 5 despite playing with a cervical strain in his neck. “Whether he’s injured or not, regardless of the situation, when it comes time to compete he’s going to show up for us and that’s what he did tonight. So definitely no surprise that he came to play (Wednesday) at all.”
Consider some of the probabilities for Doncic’s recent in-game feats.
That off-balance, near-horizontal, game-winning 3-pointer against the Grizzlies in April appeared almost a fluke in itself. Before it swished, the Mavericks had less than a 10% chance to win the game in the last minute, according to ESPN.
Doncic made it anyway.
His Game 4 buzzer-beater against the Clippers in the 2020 playoffs?
The Mavericks had to overcome a 21-point deficit while Doncic played on a sprained ankle to even allow their superstar a chance at his most recognizable NBA highlight yet.
The Mavericks then entered this postseason as a consensus underdog.
Dallas had a 26.9% chance of beating the Clippers before the series started, according to 1,000 simulations of remaining games by stat website Basketball Reference. The Mavericks’ initial 2-0 series lead temporarily flipped home-court advantage, but the Clippers have still been betting favorites in each matchup.
Before the pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday, the Mavericks’ had just a 32.3% chance to win the series, according to Basketball Reference.
Now: 64.1%, still lower than the Clippers’ initial probability.
Mavericks players and coaches, however, have learned not to dismiss Doncic in any situation — wacky or mundane, friendly or competitive.
“He going to definitely get some of your money if you’re loose with your money,” Dorian Finney-Smith said. “Me, I’m a little tight, so I don’t like betting. If I bet, it’s going to be something I know I’m going to win at, but he always made those ridiculous shots, so I try to stay away from him.”
After the Mavericks’ last practice before this series started, Doncic sat down in front of a Zoom camera in the bowels of Staples Center to talk with reporters.
He was sweaty and flushed — and a little bit richer after sinking a few half-court shots to end the workout.
“I just make a bet, even if it’s not realistic,” Doncic said. “I just won 100 bucks against JJ Redick again, so that’s the next thing he can talk about on [his] podcast.”
Doncic’s half-court prowess is why coach Rick Carlisle had to pay him off in pesos during their December 2019 trip to Mexico City and why Carlisle no longer falls for Doncic’s propositions about ending practice early or earning extra perks with wild shots off his feet or from the trainer’s table in the back of the practice facility.
Even in video games, Doncic has challenged — and beaten — 2018 draft classmate Jalen Brunson, a noted Eagles fan who had to wear a No. 77 “Luka’s Son” Cowboys jersey to their first home game in December to erase his FIFA-related debt.
“Any sort of … bet with Luka, I’ll be a quiet observer,” Powell said. “I like to save and invest my money and do something better with it.”
There’s one wager Doncic has yet to claim.
During warm-up lines before each game, Powell throws a ball high up in the air. Doncic tries to make contact with his shoulder off the bounce and knock it into the basket.
Tim Hardaway Jr. first told Doncic he wouldn’t make the shoulder shot before the early March All-Star break. Doncic has been trying so long, Hardaway has forgotten what’s on the line.
“I think I’m winning,” Hardaway said. “Kudos to me.”
Doncic will have another chance to make good on Hardaway’s challenge Friday night before Game 6 against the Clippers.
Then he’ll begin his latest upset effort to make good on the Mavericks’ second-round aspirations, too.