The Dallas Mavericks are somewhat struggling this season, currently sitting at eighth in the Western Conference playoffs standings. If the playoffs started today, they’d match up versus the San Antonio Spurs in the play-in tournament. A fair share of their struggles can be attributed to players out for an extended time due to injuries and COVID-19 as well as questionable player rests on back-to-back games. With all this being said, the Mavericks’ roster is still loaded and they will be a major playoffs dark horse.
The Dallas Mavericks are a Western Conference Playoffs Dark Horse
Luka Doncic is an MVP-Caliber Player
It’s no secret that the Mavericks have one of the league’s most talented players in Luka Doncic. If they were a couple of spots higher in the standings he’d be vying for the league’s MVP award. This season he’s averaging 28.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game. Since the beginning of February, he’s also been shooting lights-out. Lastly, Doncic’s clutch play cannot be overlooked, as seen versus a meeting with the Boston Celtics.
Any team with Doncic will always be in contention. Even if he’s struggling to score the basketball, he’ll find a way to create offense elsewhere and hit double-digit assists. He’s a machine on the offensive side of the ball and has grown into a very solid defender. Doncic is also a fierce competitor, as seen in last season’s playoff series versus the Los Angeles Clippers. His championship history in Europe gives him his “never say die” attitude that he will bring to the floor each and every night in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Kristaps Porzingis Factor is Key for the Western Conference Playoffs
There’s been plenty of debate on the decline of Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis. Injuries definitely continue to plague him, but much of the talk is exaggerated. This season he’s averaging 20.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game.
He showed out his last game without Doncic versus the Indiana Pacers, scoring 31 points and collecting 18 rebounds. The Mavericks lost, but none of that blame can be shouldered on Porzingis. When he’s on his stride, he’s nearly unstoppable. Porzingis can drain threes from the logo and hit near-impossible fadeaways. Fair criticism on his game, however, is his indecisiveness in the paint. He stands at 7’3″, and needs to take advantage of that more often.
Dallas did not upgrade their frontcourt during the trade deadline, placing clear faith in Porzingis. The time is now for him to prove his ability to be a real number two option alongside Doncic. If the playoffs started today, Dallas would most likely face the Utah Jazz. A player of Porzingis’s quality has what it takes to face off versus Rudy Gobert, and the Mavericks will need the Porzingis of last season to compete with the Western Conference’s elite bigs.
A Strong, but Underperforming Supporting Cast
Dallas has a very solid supporting cast on paper. This includes Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Willie Cauley-Stein, and the newly-acquired J.J. Redick.
Richardson is wildly inconsistent. He can drop 20 and play elite defense, or go 1/11 on the floor like he just did versus the New Orleans Pelicans. He needs to continue to score at least 13-14 points per game along with his stellar perimeter defense. The same goes for Finney-Smith. His defense is typically solid, but his shooting has been inconsistent as well. He perfected his role last season as a strong defender, rebounder, and shooter from deep. Finney-Smith’s return to consistency is key.
Hardaway Jr. and Brunson, on the other hand, are playing very well this season. They’re the main pieces of the Dallas bench. Hardaway Jr. is averaging nearly 17 points per game on 40 percent shooting from deep, while Brunson is averaging roughly 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game.
The two key big men outside of Porzingis are Kleber and Cauley-Stein. Kleber is playing decently, bringing his typical strong defense and deep shooting. Cauley-Stein, however, remains as inconsistent as Richardson. One game he may look like a legitimate starting center, and the next a stash on the bench.
Redick will be key to the Mavericks’ revitalization. They desperately need a sniper who could thrive off the ball alongside Doncic. Redick has done this his entire career, and although he’s aging, he’ll see plenty of open looks in this offense. If he can shoot in the 40-45 percent range from three, the Dallas offense may be as scary as it was last season.
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