I don’t know what will happen to this Mavericks team. Something terrible could still happen in the playoffs, and some terrible injury could still happen before. What I do know is that in my time as a Mavericks columnist, round two years now, this is by far the most fun I’ve ever had writing about them.
What I think it comes down to, for me, is quality wins, and let me just say– strap in your seatbelts, because I’m about to blow your minds.
Last season the Mavs won 50 games again. They were fine, and they got better as the season wore on. They were considered a strong contender, even, to beat the Lakers. But, even after the trade—and unlike John Hollinger, I think it matters when a team change 40% of its starting lineup midseason, even to the point of being willing to throw away an old stat or two—there were warning signs. They still lost to Utah, Phoenix, Boston, New Orleans, Portland, Orlando, and OKC.
There’s still plenty of time to do all that. They haven’t even played the Lakers yet. But consider this:
Anyway you slice it, probably the four best teams in the NBA right now are the Spurs (18-2 over their last 20), the Celtics, (17-3 over their last 20), the Heat (15-5 over their last twenty, 13-2 over their last 15), and the Mavs (17-3 over their last 20, 17-1 over their last 18).
One of these teams sticks out, in that grouping, by virtue of beating all those teams.
And this is legitimately ridiculous:
The Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and Boston Celtics are 50-6 against the rest of the NBA in their last 60. They are 0-4 against the Mavs. If you take the Heat’s last 15, when, I think, they’ve put it together, and the Spurs and Celtics’s last 20, these three teams are a ridiculous 48-3 against the rest of the NBA—and still 0-4 against the Mavs.
Now, as I say, there’s plenty of time. I, personally, do not think the Mavs are playing as well as they were two weeks ago. If you take, say, the Mavs’ last seventeen games, you’ll see something a little concerning.
When they started their recent roll, they were keeping the other team down, they were cutting the suspense at the end. From November 20th to December 3rd they played 8 games and let the other team score above 95 once. Since then, in nine games, it’s happened seven times.
In these first 8 games, they had fourth quarters of 32-23, 36-22, 32-21 (against the Spurs), 27-19—and had two other games that were such blowouts that the starters didn’t play much in the fourth, they lost it by a little bit, and still won by ten or more. These were dominant offensive and defensive performances, and when that was going on, if the Mavs were even close going into the fourth I knew they were about to run away with it.
Since then, they’ve had fourth quarters of 25-23, 34-28, 23-20, 22-27(against Utah), 25-28 (in the loss to the Bucks), 25-30, 26-32, 33-28, 29-27. I’m not even going to try to underplay this. Flat and simple, if the Mavericks lose their defensive intensity and their ability to put a stamp on the end of the game, they are not going anywhere. I need to see what I saw about a week and a half ago to believe.
But for right now, they are the giants who are also giant killers. Right now they not only play with anybody, they beat everybody—and have been, for 20 games now, the only team in the NBA who can say that. If you had ever bet that, eleven years in, Dirk would be leading his best or second best team yet, in MVP fashion, through the very best of the NBA, you’re wasting your talents on basketball. But that’s happening. And If you can’t enjoy the heck out of that, worrying about the future, then you just can’t have fun watching basketball at all.