Erik Spoelstra did everything but cover his ears.
“You know I don’t want to hear that,” he responded before the question was even finished. “I really don’t.”
The narrative that Spoelstra’s Miami Heat for whatever reason has been the team that has most slowed Luka Doncic’s five-season assault on the rest of the NBA was not something Spoelstra wanted to hear before facing the Mavericks on Friday night.
Sure enough, Doncic reeled off 34 points, making five of eight 3-point attempts, and Dallas’ maligned defense stifled the Heat, 115-90, in American Airlines Center.
Seeking to end a three-game losing streak and playing without Christian Wood (left thumb fracture), the Mavericks (25-22) leaned on Doncic’s offensive brilliance and resurrected their team defense after allowing an average of 127.8 points in their last five losses.
Miami (25-22) had won four of its last five games, and nine of its previous 11 visits to AAC, but became the first Mavericks opponent to score fewer than 100 points since Dec. 21 (Minnesota) and just the second to do so in Dallas’ last 30 games.
“We said before the game that they were going to be really physical,” Doncic said. “But I think we set a tone, playing physical and playing defense.”
Playing with smaller lineups in Wood’s absence, a swarming Dallas defense limited Miami stars Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler to, respectively, 18 and 12 points.
Coach Jason Kidd, who questioned his team’s defensive effort after Wednesday’s 130-122 home loss to Atlanta, said several players, especially injured Maxi Kleber, were vocal during a Thursday film session in which mistakes were highlighted in gory detail.
Kidd said the Mavericks’ activity level against Miami, helping one another, chasing Miami’s shooters off the 3-point line, reminded of another team, one he hadn’t seen much of this season.
“I think there was clarity of what we asked them to do in this game plan, and they responded,” he said. “It wasn’t me calling them out . . . You could just see they were flying around. So now we’ve got to hold them to that standard.
“It kind of reminded us of the way we played late last season.”
In eight previous games against Miami, Doncic averaged 20.8 points, his lowest against any NBA team, 37.6% shooting (second-lowest) and 31.1% 3-point shooting.
“Sample size is smaller,” Spoelstra tried to tell us.
A Doncic running 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Dallas a 31-19 first-quarter lead, and 11 points for himself, but he was just getting started, as Spoelstra feared would be the case.
“There’s not a coverage in this league that you can devise that’s going to stop him,” Spoelstra said. “There’s just not. What you have to do is make it tough on the Dallas Mavericks, not give them easy looks, an easy flow.”
Miami wasn’t able to do that. Not only did Dallas get 19 points from Spencer Dinwiddie, it got 15 and 12 points, respectively, off the bench from Reggie Bullock and Josh Green.
Bullock made five of six 3-point attempts. In the last four games, ever since a heart-to-heart with Kidd after a morning shootaround in Portland, Bullock has made 19-of-29 3-point attempts (65.5%).
Prior to this stretch Bullock was 56-of-179 (31.2%) on 3-pointers. He said the talk with Kidd instilled confidence in him.
“He believes in me, the team believes in me, so it’s all about me just going out there and just handling business.”
Kidd declined to say much about the talk, preferring to keep the specifics private, but he did say he told Bullock that he thought he was rushing shots.
“I don’t want to say it’s that simple,” he said. “But I think sometimes you want to make every shot because you’re wide open. And knowing you feel like you’re letting your team down. That’s how much Reggie cares about winning and about his team.”
For one night, at least, Bullock and the Mavericks looked like last season’s versions of themselves. Those Mavericks went to the Western Conference finals. Perhaps Thursday’s gory film session illustrated what they don’t want to be — and reminded them of who they used to be.
“We needed that,” Green said. “We were able to talk it out as a team and we were able to make sure that we stick onto defense and make sure it’s a big part of our game.
“Because when our defense it rolling, everything is rolling.”