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Red hot Doncic keeping focus on playoff berth

8:45 PM ET

HOUSTON —

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    Doncic declared before the season that the Mavs needed to make the playoffs, and that was the primary goal set for a franchise that is determined to end a three-year playoff drought. Dallas looks like a potential surprise contender, as the Mavs are tied for third in the West with an 11-5 record and tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s best net rating, outscoring opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions.

    But the Mavs and their 20-year-old superstar had no interest in discussing grander possibilities after another dominant performance.

    “For me, it’s making the playoffs still,” said Doncic, who had 41 points, six rebounds and 10 assists in the win, more than holding his own in a duel with perennial MVP candidate James Harden (32 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists). “It’s a long season. It’s only been one month. We didn’t make the playoffs yet, so we’ve just got to keep going right now.”

    The Mavs arrived in Houston fresh off a 4-0 homestand, the franchise’s first since sweep of a homestand that long since their title season in 2010-11. Dallas became the fourth team in NBA history to win consecutive games by more than 40 points by routing recent championship teams that are in rebuilding seasons, blowing out the Golden State Warriors by 48 on Wednesday and the Cleveland Cavaliers by 42 on Friday.

    The quick road trip to face the Rockets represented a test with much tougher competition. The Mavs responded by never allowing Houston to take a lead, opening the game with a 13-2 run, leading by as many as 22 points and slamming the door with a 23-9 run after Houston pulled within five with seven minutes, 39 seconds remaining.

    “We’re not going to get overexcited,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We know we’re capable. … The team is growing. This is a big win, there’s no question about that. This is a big-time place to play, and you’re playing against great players, and so our guys deserve credit. But, look, this is a process, and it’s day by day, week by week.”

    Doncic delivered another statistical line that had historical significance. He joined LeBron James as the lone players in NBA history to have multiple outings with at least 40 points and 10 assists before their 21st birthday, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

    Doncic had a 42-point triple-double in Monday’s win over the Spurs, beginning a streak of four straight games with at least 30 points and 10 assists that he extended against the Rockets. The only players in NBA history with longer such streaks: Oscar Robertson (twice), Nate Archibald, Michael Jordan and Russell Westbrook.

    “Luka runs the show,” Mavs power forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “We all depend on him most of the game, and he’s playing incredible right now. He’s getting guys open looks. … He’s playing incredible right now. I’m super happy for him.”

    By no means, however, has Doncic been a one-man band during Dallas’ five-game run. Carlisle referred to Porizingis’ recent performances as “phenomenal” after Porzingis posted his fourth double-double in the last five games with 23 points and 13 rebounds against the Rockets. Carlisle has been particularly proud of the defensive work done by the 7-foot-3 Porzingis, who had a game-best plus-minus of plus-32.

    Porzingis set the tone right after opening tip against the Rockets, getting a steal, a deflection that led to another steal and a blocked shot in the first 96 seconds.

    “He’s coming and coming, playing better and better,” Doncic said of Porzingis, who struggled early in the season as he was coming off a 20-month layoff due to a knee injury.

    Shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr., whose contract was considered the tax the Mavs took to acquire Porzingis in last season’s trade with the New York Knicks, has also excelled recently. Hardaway made his first three starts of the season in the last three games, scoring 22.3 points per game on 66.7% shooting from the floor.

    The Mavs have scored at least 135 points in all three games, a first in franchise history. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the last team to accomplish that feat was the Phoenix Suns in February 2009.

    But Porzingis, like Doncic and Carlisle, stressed the importance of not getting caught up in the Mavs’ success.

    “We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves,” Porzingis said. “The season is long. We believe in ourselves. We have high confidence, and we want to keep it going. At the same time, we’ve got to keep doing the things we’ve been doing to get to this point and go day by day and get better.

    “It’s time together, it’s chemistry, making sure that everybody is on the same page. A lot of stuff happens that you guys never find out about inside the locker room between players and stuff like that. We’ve got to make sure all that stuff is right. Also, the relationship between coaches and players, that’s got to be there. I’ve seen when it goes south. Right now, we’re in a great place, and we want to keep it going.”

    Source: ESPN NBA