NBA Basketball

Doncic-led Mavericks look to slay Raptors

As NBA Rookie of the Year frontrunner Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks look to make it three consecutive home wins Sunday night, they can likely expect to face a ticked-off Toronto Raptors' team.

The Raptors have lost two straight on the road, including Friday's 121-119 defeat to James Harden and the Houston Rockets, while falling behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Toronto wraps up a three-game road trip with its final stop in Texas this season.

"I think we just didn't play up to our potential," said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry following his 2-of-9 shooting performance in the loss to the Rockets, a game in which the Raptors trailed the entire way. The Raptors, a sturdy defensive team, allowed Houston to score 70 points in the first half.

"We didn't play hard enough at all, both ends," Lowry said. "We didn't play hard enough."

Toronto never found a groove in the game, even with star Kawhi Leonard returning to the lineup following a four-game absence that has been described by the club as "load management."

After scoring 32 points in his return against the Rockets, Leonard, selected as an All-Star starter Thursday, passed DeMar DeRozan, the player Toronto sent to San Antonio in the trade to acquire Leonard, with 21 consecutive games of scoring at least 20 points. He now has the franchise record of 23 consecutive games in his sights, a mark held by Vince Carter.

The Raptors, now 15-11 on the road, will look to snap their mini-skid against one of the better home teams in the league, despite Dallas being out of the Western Conference playoff mix. Following close wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and then the Detroit Pistons on Friday, the Mavericks own an 18-6 home mark, tied for the second-fewest home losses in the West.

Doncic has been the constant force. He posted another astounding line in Friday's 106-101 win over the Pistons with 32 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as he approaches triple-double territory nearly nightly.

Doncic is back to pairing with backcourt mate Dennis Smith Jr., who had left the team upset with his role because Doncic has taken over the duties at point guard. But in Smith's return the last two games, he scored 36 points with nine assists, giving Dallas hope that the two young players can ultimately form a dynamic due.

During Smith's six-game absence from the team, Dallas went 2-4 as it search for a workable trade.

"Look, those guys can play (together)," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after watching his starting backcourt combine for 51 points against Detroit.

In that game, Carlisle mixed up his rotations, often giving Smith opportunities at point guard in place of Doncic, the team's leader in scoring at 20.2 points while ranking second in assists at 5.3.

"I like staggering them because it creates a different look," Carlisle said. "The important thing is to do whatever is best to win games."

--Field Level Media

Updated January 26, 2019

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