DALLAS MAVERICKS (40-27), 7th in Western Conference
Where are they now: The ducks appear to be all in a row for the Mavericks to make a move up the Western standings in the final eight games. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are both healthy; the Mavericks get a shot at the team immediately ahead of them (Houston) right of the bat; and Dallas (.555 cumulative record of remaining opponents) has the easiest schedule among the six teams currently situated in playoff positions 3-8.
So what’s the problem? The Mavericks haven’t seemed up to this kind of challenge all season, going just 6-14 against teams in the Top 10 in point differential, and they’ve lost 16 of 22 contests that were decided by five or fewer points. And now they move forward without two key contributors — Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson — both of whom are injured.
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Dallas Mavericks First Half Highlights
The marriage of Doncic and Porzingis, who sat out all of last season with a torn ACL, produced immediate fireworks as the Mavericks busted out of the gates with a 16-6 start that featured wins at Denver and Houston. The road success became a theme before the break, with the Mavericks’ 21-12 record ranking second in the West to the Lakers’ 26-6.
Fueled by a franchise-record 15.3 3-pointers per game and an NBA-best 14 triple-doubles by Doncic, the Mavericks rode the league’s third-best offense (116.4 points per game) to what is now assured to be their first winning season since 2016. But a leaky defense (110.3 points per game, 15th-best in the NBA) kept the club from keeping pace in the standings with the West’s heavyweights.
Dallas Mavericks NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
Doncic has been brilliant and will be one of the most heavily supported runners up for the MVP award.
In logging one of the best sophomore seasons in NBA history, the 21-year-old ranked fourth in the NBA in assists (8.7), sixth in scoring (28.7) and 19th in rebounds (9.3). If those numbers hold, he would become just the seventh player since the ABA/NBA merger to rank in the Top 20 in all three categories, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
Almost equally impressive has been Porzingis, who kept the Mavericks afloat as Doncic struggled a bit down the stretch with ankle, thumb and wrist injuries. He fashioned five consecutive 20-point/10-rebound outings during a 13-game run from Jan. 31 to March 6 in which he averaged 27.7 points and 11.0 rebounds.
Porzingis believes the four-month break gives the Mavericks an opportunity to revert to their early season form, when the club got off to a 16-6 start.
“I knew if we had the chance (to resume the season), I had to be ready physically, mentally and in every other aspect, so I stayed ready the whole time,” Porzingis told reporters on the eve of entering the NBA bubble. “I feel great physically, super-excited. Mentally, I’m there.
“The extra time just gave all of us more time to recover from little things that we all have going on. Basically everybody has something, always, and we just play through it, so this extra time gave guys the opportunity to heal those little things. I think we can surprise people.”
Dallas Mavericks NBA Bubble Playoff Outlook
No postseason matchup is etched in stone just yet, but you can at least pencil in Clippers-Mavericks in Round 1. Dallas would have to make up three games in the loss column on either Oklahoma City (40-24) or Houston (40-24) in order to move up from the No. 7 slot, and after the head-to-head with the Rockets on Opening Night II, the Mavericks won’t get another shot at Houston or the Thunder.
Knowing their probable fate might not be such a bad thing for the Mavericks, who now can focus on keeping Doncic and Porzingis fresh, while also looking for the best ways of replacing Powell (torn Achilles) and Brunson (shoulder surgery). They could use the extra time to study up on the Clippers, who swept a pair from Dallas by an average of 9.0 points in November and January.
Dallas Mavericks Best Bets for the Bubble: Mavericks under 4½ wins (minus-143 on SugarHouse) over rest of regular season. There’s nothing about “little incentive” and “stay healthy” that indicates Dallas will go 5-3 or better the rest of the way.