The Dallas Mavericks have won two straight games over the Utah Jazz to take a 2-1 edge in their first-round playoff series without superstar Luka Doncic. The 23-year-old is dealing with a calf strain and could return as soon as Game 4, but Dallas has not needed him as they just picked up their first win in Salt Lake City since April 2016.
Jalen Brunson is leading the charge with back-to-back 30-point games. He has looked unstoppable on the offensive end of the floor, and the team is playing stout defense against Utah’s top-rated offense as Maxi Kleber has become the unsung hero in the series.
Head coach Jason Kidd knew he could rely on Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Reggie Bullock for massive minutes with Luka Doncic out, but who would fill their center role? Dwight Powell started for most of the season, but the Jazz are a difficult matchup for him, and he would not have Doncic to hit him with those otherworldly lob passes. Kidd tried every option in Game 1 before Kleber took things over.
Maxi Kleber is the key to Dallas Mavericks playoff rotation
The 6’10 forward missed the final four regular-season games as he dealt with ankle soreness. Over his final 17 games played, Kleber shot just 18.8 percent from 3-point range, and he just did not look healthy. There were questions about his status for the series late in the regular season as he was sidelined, but the 30-year-old has answered all of them.
Kleber was part of the closing lineup in Game 1 as he drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter to put Dallas within one point, and the 6’10 forward missed another that would have given the Mavericks the lead. His defense and shot-making are the perfect anecdote to Utah’s drop coverage and help defense by Rudy Gobert.
Kleber drilled a career-high eight 3-pointers in Game 2 on his way to 25 points in 31.6 minutes of action in the victory. It was clear that Dallas needs him spacing the floor and knocking down open shots to keep their offense rolling.
Kleber again played a key role in Game 3 as he scored 17 points on six of seven shooting from the field, including making four 3-pointers. Kleber was limited to just 22.3 minutes because of foul trouble, but the rest of the Mavericks stepped up. Davis Bertans had 15 points and made four 3-pointers with Josh Green filling in with 12 points and six assists off the bench as the Jazz refused to guard the 6’5 wing beyond the 3-point line again.
Maxi Kleber is the linchpin of the team’s center rotation because he can defend inside and on the perimeter, while knocking down shots at a high clip. The Dallas Mavericks have to be careful with his minutes, though. Kleber has struggled with injuries over the last two years, and they need him healthy if they are going to finish off the series against the Utah Jazz and make a deep playoff run.
Things will change when Luka Doncic returns. Dwight Powell will be more effective as a roll man and lob threat. The 23-year-old superstar will also force defenses to collapse more and create additional open shots, but Maxi Kleber will still be part of the team’s closing lineup. If he keeps knocking down shots, the Dallas Mavericks are going to be difficult to defeat, so stay tuned.