The Dallas Mavericks, who have spent most of the season doing everything they can to lose games on purpose, fucked up big time on Tuesday night when they beat a very good, playoff-bound Blazers team. This gave them 24 victories on the season, and put them in danger of being passed in The Great Tank Race Of 2018 by the Magic and Kings. So when Dallas travelled to Orlando to take on the Magic last night, you knew shit was going to get ugly.
Boy, did it. The Mavs, tossing their pride into the garbage disposal, designated four of the five starters who helped win the game on Tuesday as “injured.” Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith, Jr., and Dwight Powell were all locked in a tomb, leaving J.J. Barea as the only holdover from Tuesday’s starting five to take the court on Thursday. Barea played 10 minutes before leaving the game with an “oblique strain.”
In place of actual NBA players, the Mavs ran out a starting lineup featuring A Harrison Twin, Doug McDermott, some guy named Johnathan Motley, and some guy named Dorian Finney-Smith. All you need to know about the rest of the rotation is that a 26-year-old rookie named Maximilian Kleber came off the bench to score 12 points in 12 minutes while shooting 5-of-5 from the field, and probably got yelled at for it.
The Magic attempted to counter the Mavs by sitting starting center Nikola Vucevic, but were unable to muster enough shamelessness to pretend that the rest of their starting lineup was suddenly too injured to play. Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon got to play a combined 61 minutes, and that was enough to pace the Magic to a 105-100 win. The Mavericks now have a one-game lead on the Magic in the loss column, with three games left to lose in order to protect it.
Debates about the ethics and wisdom of tanking are constant and exhausting, but I don’t think anyone can argue that it’s not extraordinarily stupid for a billion-dollar sports league featuring some of the greatest athletes in the world to be constructed in such a way that games like this one are common. Next year’s lottery reforms probably won’t help much, and the only way to truly fix this problem is to kill the amateur draft. Until that happens, we’re stuck watching NBA teams go through this dumb, embarrassing charade every season.