Kyrie: Fighting for play-in not what I expected
PHILADELPHIA — After the Dallas Mavericks lost for the 14th time in 20 games since Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic took the court as teammates, Irving said this was far from where he expected the team to be when he arrived in Dallas almost two months ago.
Irving, speaking after Wednesday night’s 116-108 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, said the major question he has now is what does the Mavs’ future look like?
“I think that now, again, just where we are in the season, and where other teams are positioned already, it kind of looks like a bit of a clusterf—, to be honest with you,” Irving said. “Because we’re 37-40, and we’re trying to fight to get into the play-in game. It’s not the expectations I don’t think any of us had in that locker room.”
Irving, who had 23 points, six rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes, said adjusting to being traded at midseason for the first time in his NBA career has introduced him to “a lot of newness” after his time with the Brooklyn Nets came to an abrupt end.
“I didn’t expect to ask for a trade at that point in the season,” he said. “So I wanted to finish out with Brooklyn, finish out with the season that we had going, and I didn’t get a chance to do that. So some of the goals I had previously this season had to be shifted, and I had to be more than willing, which I am, to be flexible and adaptable and live with the results, whether we make the playoffs or not.
“I just have to be at peace with where I am and which I am, and trust of the guys that I’m going to be in that war room with every single day. So, I’m appreciative of them giving me the opportunity. It’s been nothing but great here. And I’ve been at peace.”
Irving added: “So it’s been good — outside of the losses, of course. We’d like to win every game.”
Wins have been few and far between for Dallas over the past several weeks, as the Mavericks have lost five of six games to tumble all the way out of the play-in spots in the Western Conference. Since trading for Irving, the Mavericks are 9-14 — and 6-14 since he and Doncic played together for the first time on Feb. 11 in Sacramento.
The Mavs’ loss to Philadelphia, coupled with the Oklahoma City Thunder winning against the Detroit Pistons on a last-second putback by rookie Jalen Williams, now has Dallas sitting a game behind the Thunder for the 10th and final play-in spot in the West.
To make matters worse for the Mavericks (37-40), Oklahoma City also holds the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series. So, Dallas now heads to Miami, where it will play the Heat on Saturday before visiting the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in back-to-backs, before returning to Dallas to end the season with home games against Sacramento, Chicago and San Antonio.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Doncic, who had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in Wednesday’s loss. “We were in a playoff spot and now we’re trying to get in the play-in, so it’s obviously frustrating.”
Dallas had its chances against Philadelphia (50-26), which got stars James Harden (Achilles) and Joel Embiid (calf) back, but looked like a team that was playing in a fourth time zone in the span of a week. As a result, Dallas stayed in control for large stretches of the game, only to allow Philadelphia to make strong closing runs over the final couple of minutes of both the second and third quarters (9-2 and 10-5, respectively).
Philadelphia outscored Dallas 16-5 over the final seven minutes to secure the win.
Irving said losing has been tough and that the Mavs have had to “go through growing pains as a team.”
“We’re learning each other on the fly and just learning how to win ballgames and keep a mental edge over our opponents no matter who we’re playing,” he said. “So we’re definitely learning in that direction. But in terms of the now where we are controlling our present destiny as a team going against the Sixers, I feel like we had a great chance to win this game, and, you know, just our poise down the stretch just wasn’t at a high level that we needed to get this win, and they took full advantage of it.”
Despite finding themselves outside of the play-in spots with 10 days remaining in the regular season, Irving, Doncic and Mavericks coach Jason Kidd all expressed optimism that the team still has time to get itself sorted out.
“I think it’s always possible,” Kidd said. “It’s, you know, just your belief system — if you believe in it and have positive energy and not be selfish. That’s where it starts. It’s about the team. You win as a team, and you lose as a team, and you try to get better as a team.
“It’s not just, you know, [Kyrie] and Luka. Everyone got open shots tonight, and we just got to be able to make them. When you look at [Reggie Bullock‘s] first 3, he makes it, and they couldn’t buy one. Maxi [Kleber] makes one and then turns some down. But, you know, we’ve talked about making the right play, make or miss, that’s the way you got to live. If you start to turn things down, it turns to the basketball gods will go against you. So we just got to, you know, stay together, stay positive and find a way to win in Miami.”
When Doncic was asked about the process of building chemistry, though, he said there’s no time to worry about that.
“I mean, I don’t think it’s about chemistry,” he said. “We just got to win games. That’s it.”