It’s safe to say that when the NBA season resumes on July 30, we won’t know what kind of basketball we’ll be getting. While players have done their best to keep in shape during the nearly five-month hiatus, there will likely be some sloppy games to start out, which could even carry over to the first round of the playoffs. With that being said, the unexpected nature of the NBA restart opens the door for anything to happen, including the possibility for teams who were previously not considered a threat to turn some heads.
One team that is in prime position to be a dark horse in the postseason is the Dallas Mavericks. It may be easy to write off a No. 7 seed, especially in the tough-as-nails Western Conference, but the Mavericks aren’t a typical low-seeded team. During an appearance on CBS Sports HQ, former Mavericks coach Avery Johnson even went so far as to say that Dallas could “sneak into the Finals.”
That may be an outlandish take considering Dallas would currently have to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs if they started today. But, if the Mavs can move up the West standings — which they are entirely capable of doing — they have the perfect recipe of star power and depth to pull off an upset when the playoffs start.
Here are three reasons why the Mavericks are a threat when the season resumes.
1. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are healthy
Every team heading to Orlando will get the benefit of being well-rested after four months away from the game. But for Dallas, it’s about more than just rest, as both Doncic and Porzingis were dealing with ailments before the season was paused. From December to early February, the Mavs’ star duo missed a combined 24 games, with Doncic dealing with left thumb and wrist injuries, as well as an ankle injury that kept him out for six-straight games. Porzingis missed 10 games due to left knee soreness and still wasn’t playing in back-to-backs before the season was stopped in an effort to slowly bring him back in his first full season after tearing his ACL in 2018.
Now, though, with both players expected to be at full health, this Mavericks team could do some damage heading to Orlando. With renewed energy, there’s a strong chance that Doncic could look more like what he did at the start of the 2019-2020 season when he was considered an early MVP candidate. For Porzingis, right before the hiatus, he was starting to click on all cylinders with the Mavs, but specifically with Doncic. After head coach Rick Carlisle made the decision to move K.P. to center, Porzingis’ game fully opened up, and his chemistry with Doncic skyrocketed.
The two became a dangerous pick-and-roll tandem, and in the month before COVID-19 halted the season, they were averaging a combined 52 points a game. When asked during a conference call with reporters if he thought it would be difficult to pick up where he and Doncic left off chemistry-wise in March, Porzingis didn’t sound worried about it at all.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that tough, we’ve been working out with Luka since we’ve been back and I think for us, once we got to know each other a little more on the court, it was only a matter of time for us to get that chemistry going,” Porzingis said. “I don’t think we’re going to take a step back, … it’s heading in the right direction, and we’re both excited to play with each other. I can feel we all got a little extra juice now when we’re working out because we know what’s coming.”
2. Shooting and depth
Aside from Doncic and Porzingis, the Mavs have far more to offer on their roster. In fact, Dallas has two of the best 3-point shooters in the league in Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr. Of players who average five-or-more 3s a game, Curry ranks first in the league in 3-point percentage (45.3), while Hardaway comes in at No. 10, knocking down shots from beyond the arc at a 40.7 percent clip. The Mavericks are the only team in the league who have two players ranked in the top 10 of that list. Curry and Hardaway both benefit greatly from sharing the floor with Doncic, a passing wunderkind who can fit the ball through the tiniest of windows to find them open in 3-point land.
They’re not the only ones on Dallas’ roster experiencing career years, though. Dorian Finney-Smith, who developed into the Mavericks’ best defender this season, has significantly improved his shooting. The fourth-year forward is knocking down 3s at a 37 percent clip, a far cry from the sub-.300 average he was working with over the first two years of his career. His ability to improve his 3-point shooting has now made him a valuable player on both ends of the floor for Dallas. Working further down the roster, Maxi Kleber has become a great find for Dallas, acting as a do-it-all type of player for the Mavs. He can hold his own when guarding in the post or out on the perimeter, protect the rim and is an excellent floor spacer on offense as he shoots 37.4 percent from deep on four attempts per game.
Despite heading into Orlando without key players like Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson, the Mavericks still have great depth and a wealth of shooting talent up and down their roster to make life difficult for one of the top teams in the West.
3. Favorable “seeding” schedule
The Mavericks’ eight-game seeding schedule will give them a great opportunity to move up the Western Conference standings, given they play the lowly Suns twice, Sacramento and Portland. Dallas will also get a chance to close the 1.5 game gap between it and the Houston Rockets when the two teams face off against each other on July 31. It also helps that Houston and Oklahoma City Thunder — the two teams above them in the standings — have a more difficult schedule in Orlando. The record of the Mavericks opponents in Orlando is 287-230 (.555), the Rockets is 304-214 (.586) and the Thunder’s is 303-220 (.579).
Mavericks seeding schedule
Depending on how things shake out during the seeding portion of the season, the Mavericks could get as high as No. 5 in the West before the playoffs, giving them a legitimate shot at winning a playoff series. Even if they only moved up one spot to No. 6, and faced the current No. 3 seed, the Denver Nuggets, that would bode well for Dallas, too. Before the hiatus, the Mavs went 2-1 against the Nuggets, with the lone loss coming at the hands of a game-winning shot by Nikola Jokic at the last second.
In order to significantly improve their playoff odds, getting out of that seventh spot is key. If that happens, coach Johnson is right, this team will be hard to game plan for in the postseason.