If the Warriors bring the same defensive intensity they took into Memphis on Tuesday, they’ll give themselves a reasonable chance to win Wednesday night in Dallas.
Anything less, and they’ll be food for the kid.
Three months and eight days before he can walk up to a bartender and legally order anything he wants, Luka Doncic already is taking whatever he wants within the NBA.
The league that provided a platform for such gifted 20-year-olds as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant has never seen one quite like Doncic, who is driving the Mavericks into a new era of relevancy.
His across-the-board statistics are astonishing and testify to his impact. He’s the only player in the league that is in the top 10 in triple-doubles (first, six), assists (second, 9.3 per game), scoring (fourth, 29.5), player-efficiency rating (fourth 30.91), minutes (fourth, 35.0) and rebounds (10th, 10.7).
But those superlatives, which set Doncic apart, represent only the tangibles. It’s his background and intangibles that are making him not only a fabulous player but also put him on the fast track to superstardom.
The 6-foot-7 Slovenian guard/forward has the complete panache kit. The hubris to dribble between the legs of a defender. The audacity to demand the ball and take the shot in the final seconds of a close game. The no-look passes reminiscent of vintage Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The physical theatrics that speak the universal language of swagger.
Put another way, Luka’s game has elements of the late, great Drazen Petrovic, Bird, Magic, Kobe and LeBron.
He’s a “bad motherf-----," James said after he and Doncic exchanged lightning strikes in a 119-110 overtime victory by the Lakers on Nov. 1 in Dallas.
James had 39 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds in 43 minutes. Doncic had 31 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in 38 minutes. Doncic now has 14 career triple-doubles, two more before his 21st birthday than Magic Johnson (seven) and LeBron (five) combined before theirs.
So, naturally, when Luka totaled 42 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds in a 117-110 win over the Spurs on Monday, LeBron was compelled to comment via Instagram.
“He’s one BAD MOFO!!!!!. I tried to tell y’all.”
Doncic is one of two players in NBA history to open a season with at least 250 points, 100 rebounds and 90 assists in his first 10 games. The other? A legend named Oscar Robertson.
After facing Luka for the first time, last December, Warriors All-Star Draymond Green didn’t bother to skimp on the praise.
"That dude good," Green said after a 120-116 Warriors win. "He got it. He going to be a problem. He already a problem, but he's going to be really good for a long time. He is exciting to watch. He has kind of lifted that franchise."
Luka was, at that time, 19. He had played a total of 30 NBA games.
But Doncic had been a pro, sort of, for six years, since he was 13. That is not a typo but was his age when he signed a five-year contract with Real Madrid to play on the under-16 team. He was 16 when he made his actual pro debut. At age 18, a month before he was drafted by the Mavericks, he became the youngest person to be named Euroleague MVP.
And now he’s banging on the door of the NBA’s MVP discussion that centers mostly on Houston’s James Harden, who won it in 2018, and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won it last season.
Luka is the primary reason Dallas (8-5) is fifth in the Western Conference and making a bid to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. He has help -- notably seven-foot-three Kristaps Porzingis -- but Doncic is this team’s wheels, motor, horn and hood ornament.
“This guy can do anything he wants to on a basketball court," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, a former teammate of Bird, told reporters in Dallas on Monday. "He's having one of those magical runs right now. It's a phenomenal thing to watch It's a phenomenal thing to be a part of."
And here come the Warriors, who aren’t the rampaging bunch of recent years but have gotten much better after being the NBA’s worst defense through the first 12 games.
With D’Angelo Russell – wonderful on offense, generally nonchalant on defense – sidelined with a hand injury, coach Steve Kerr is starting his best defensive lineup. The guards: Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks. The forwards: Eric Paschall and Green, who assumes point guard duties on offense. The center: Willie Cauley-Stein. With them playing the bulk of the minutes over the last three games, the team’s defensive rating (103.0) is fifth-best in the league.
If the Warriors bring their best stuff, they have a chance. It’s only a chance, though, because the kid isn’t partial to being contained.