After an admittedly “horrible” season for the Dallas Mavericks, the team’s two big stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are keen to make a statement during this new NBA campaign and prove they can be the deadly combo everyone expects them to be.
The Mavericks made a move for Irving mid last season, in February, and his arrival at American Airlines Centre from Brooklyn was meant to help a team that heavily relied on Doncic.
Striking up a successful partnership on the fly proved difficult and Dallas went 5-11 in the 16 games the duo played together before missing out on the play-offs, and the play-in tournament altogether.
“Last year was horrible, we didn’t make the play-offs. So there is for sure something that we need to prove and we are all motivated by that,” Doncic said on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, ahead of the Mavericks’ upcoming two pre-season games against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Etihad Arena.
The world is excited to see how two powerhouses like Doncic and Irving can combine on the floor and the latter concedes it is a challenge, but one he is capable of tackling.
With the added benefit of having a full training camp and pre-season together, Irving feels “at peace” entering the new season, and has been enjoying his time in Abu Dhabi so far, going camel-riding and dining in the desert with his teammates.
“I’ll tell you it’s so much more peaceful when you start from day one and you could honestly set your expectations of where you want them to be,” said Irving.
“Just use training camp to grow with the teammates, grow with the coaches. When you’re in international waters you kind of have no choice but to connect and get to know each other in a deeper way. I’m just grateful for that opportunity. Dallas showed me nothing but love when I got traded. They’ve been giving me a warm embrace and just telling me to be myself. I’m at peace, so I’m grateful.”
Doncic has been coy when asked about what he’s learnt about Irving during this training camp but with the team as a whole getting to spend more time together, the chemistry is bound to grow.
Besides making plans to dominate on the court against Minnesota, the Slovenian star has his sights set on a visit to Yas Island’s Ferrari World, and Irving is happy to join him on the world’s fastest roller coaster.
Figuring out a winning formula on the court could be a bit more complicated though.
“We’re going to have to answer our own questions before we answer everyone else’s,” said Irving, an NBA champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
“I think me and Luka have our own expectations of what we want to accomplish together, but most importantly as a team. As leaders of this team, we have an experience, me being able to be in the Finals stage a few times, and fall short the last few years, I’ve been able to learn from failure, learn from mistakes, and be able to bring that pedigree here and teach the guys some things that I myself am still growing through.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to. Not necessarily answering questions about me and Luka, but answering the question on how successful we are as a team.”
Mavs coach Jason Kidd is confident his star duo will click and is keen to see Doncic claim MVP honours this season.
The Hall-of-Famer admits his side have something to prove after posting a 38-44 record last season but believes the new-look Mavericks, bolstered by the arrival of rookies Dereck Lively II and Olivier-Maxence Prosper, can turn things around.
“This is a different team than last year. We have a lot of new faces, we feel that we’ve gotten better. So if we can stay healthy, we believe our two stars in Kai and Luka are going to play at a high level and that hopefully puts us in a position to win a lot of games,” said Kidd.
Slovenia may have finished seventh in the Fiba World Cup but on an individual level, Doncic had a huge campaign, averaging 27 points per game, 7.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists.
He’s looking to take that form into the new NBA season and is not shying away from his MVP ambitions.
“It’s important. It’s MVP of the best league in the world. It’s not bad. But we’ve got to get some wins first, that’s what it's all about this year, winning games,” said the 24-year-old.
The two fixtures in Abu Dhabi are the opening pre-season games for both team and their coaches plan on putting all their players in rotation.
The Timberwolves know they will have their hands full with Doncic and Irving, their 35-year-old point guard Mike Conley describing the challenge as “having your head on a swivel”.
“You’re talking about two of the best players in the league, obviously two of the best scorers and playmakers in the league,” said Conley.
“So normally, when you have to face one or the other, you kind of key in on one guy at a time. But when they’re both on the floor together you kind of have to have your head on the swivel because you can’t isolate one guy or another.
“It’s definitely going to be a test defensively and just trying to match their intensity in the way they play, the way they move the ball, the way they can see the floor, the way they score, so it’ll be fun.”
The Dallas Mavericks will face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday, October 5, and Saturday, October 7, at Etihad Arena, both games begin at 8pm. Tickets can be found on etihadarena.ae and ticketmaster.ae *