Dallas Mavericks young superstar Luka Doncic said confidence has been the driving force behind his spectacular play in the first month of the season.
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Doncic has vaulted himself into the early-season MVP conversation with per-game averages of 29.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 9.7 assists - including seven triple-doubles. His stellar performances have propelled the Mavericks to a 10-5 record and into the Western Conference playoff places.
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"I'm playing better than last year for now," Doncic said. "I'd say it is a mental thing. It's a lot about confidence. I just know the NBA. There are going to be tough games."
Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle suggested, after Doncic's Rookie of the Year 2018-19 season, the competitiveness of the NBA had inspired his star player to greater heights.
"The year of experience under his belt is big because the NBA is a different brand of basketball (to the European leagues)," he said. "People will be gunning for him - you have to study your game to see where you can improve each year."
Although Doncic has led his team to numerous victories in opening month of the season, his most talked about performance came in a loss.
Doncic went head to head with his childhood idol LeBron James as the Mavericks lost a thrilling game to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 1. The Slovenian star fired for 31 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists but was outshone by James, who produced 39 points, 12 rebounds and 16 assists as the Lakers pulled out a 119-110 overtime win.
After the game, James offered rich praise for Doncic. "For me, playing the game the right way, getting my team-mates involved and playing for the purity of the game, I was able to inspire a kid that wasn't even in America. That's pretty special," he said.
"We now see what he is capable of doing - his ability to make plays, not only for himself but for his team-mates, his rebounding, playing for the pure love of the game. It's a beautiful thing to watch."
"It was a great game, obviously, and I wanted to win," Doncic reflected. "That didn't happen but it was still a special moment for me. I have always admired him so I will remember that game for a long time."
Doncic isn't the only foundational piece of the Dallas roster. The Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis last January and the Latvian, now recovered from a serious ACL injury, has returned to the court after an absence of 20 months.
"He was a great pick-up last year, he is a great player," said Doncic of Porzingis. "His shooting, his defense, he can block any shot. I'm just happy we have him on the Mavs."
"We are going to need a little bit of time to get a real feel for each other but I think when we get that feel we will be a real deadly duo," Porzingis said.
Doncic is optimistic the Mavericks have the pieces in place for him to lead the team back into consistent playoff contention.
"I always feel like I can lead teams," he said. "We've got a group of young guys and we can keep building up and up. We're not at the top yet, for sure. We've just got to get better."