NBA Power Rankings Week 12: The Mavericks Are Showing Signs

In mid-November, the Dallas Mavericks boasted a 9-4 record and looked to be building on a 42-30 season from 2020-21. However, there were underlying issues with the Mavericks’ profile and, in short order, things crumbled with a 6-13 stretch that produced plenty of consternation. That 19-game downturn ended with a competitive loss to the Utah Jazz on Christmas Day and, since then, Dallas is 7-1 with an active six-game winning streak that assuages at least some of the doubts around the team.

Over the course of that six-game streak, the Mavericks toppled the Warriors and Bulls, among others, and held Golden State to 82 points in the process. The win over Chicago ended a nine-game winning streak for the Bulls and, during the run, Luka Doncic returned from a lengthy absences. The face of the franchise has appeared in four of the last five games and while Doncic continues to battle shooting issues, he is averaging 11.8 assists and 9.5 rebounds per game while raising the level of the team’s offense.

For the season, the offense has been maddeningly average in Dallas, even with an overall profile that is relatively similar to last season. The problem is that the Mavericks are simply making fewer shots this season. Dallas is shooting just 45.1 percent from the floor and 33.5 percent from three-point range this year after 47 percent and 36.2 percent, respectively, a season ago. That explains most of the downturn, even against a more moderate offensive environment, and Doncic is sporting career-worst marks in true shooting percentage (53.4 percent) and turnover rate (16.6 percent).

Doncic is a proven star and, at this juncture, there is no reason to worry about his contributions. From there, the Mavericks are scoring more than 1.15 points per possession in the last eight games, even as the defense is carrying the largest workload. Dallas is allowing an elite 96.7 points per 100 possessions during the six-game winning streak. Some of that is explained by unsustainably poor three-point shooting (28.7 percent) for opponents, but the fundamentals are stronger, and there is reason to believe that the Mavericks can rekindle the elite offense they have showcased in previous seasons with Doncic.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 11, the Mavericks are projected by FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR model to finish fifth in the West with 48 wins. That includes a 96 percent chance to make the playoffs. It might seem high given the team’s current proximity to the play-in tournament, but RAPTOR takes player value into account, illustrating the notion that Dallas is more talented than its early-season results indicate. If nothing else, the West is wide open with a huge gap after the top four in the standings and, at present, there is no reason to think the Mavericks can’t keep most of this going in pursuit of the No. 5 seed.

Where do the Mavs rank in the hierarchy of our DIME power rankings this week? Let’s explore.

1. Phoenix Suns (31-9, Last week — 1st)

Phoenix wasn’t a given in the top spot after a weirdly ugly loss at home to Miami. That hiccup matters, but the Suns are 4-1 in the last five games. Phoenix has the best record in the league, but they will have to hold off the insane charge of the No. 2 team.

2. Memphis Grizzlies (29-14, Last week — 5th)

The Grizzlies haven’t lost since before Christmas. Some of the victories during Memphis’ 10-game winning streak don’t jump off the page, but the Grizzlies beat the Suns and Nets on the road before sweeping through Los Angeles and then beating the Warriors on Tuesday. It’s been quite a run for Memphis, and the Grizzlies should be taken seriously.

3. Golden State Warriors (30-10, Last week — 1st)

Golden State has the better profile for the full season, but the head-to-head loss in Memphis prompts a flip-flop. The Warriors are operating without Draymond Green, which matters a great deal, but return of Klay Thompson is an unquestionable positive. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Warriors were back at No. 1 in short order.

4. Utah Jazz (28-13, Last week — 2nd)

Utah dips a little bit, but there is no reason to panic. The Jazz are 1-3 in the last four games, but all three losses came without Rudy Gobert. Predictably, Utah’s defense cratered in that four-game stretch, allowing more than 1.2 points per possession. Gobert’s return should cure most of those ills.

5. Chicago Bulls (27-11, Last week — 3rd)

There wasn’t much to learn from Chicago’s annihilation of Detroit on Tuesday, but the Bulls won that game by 46 points. That is tough to do against any NBA team, and Chicago is 10-1 in the last 11 games. The Bulls drop this week because they finally lost a game, but they are truly rolling.

6. Philadelphia 76ers (23-16, Last week — 6th)

We showered praise upon the Sixers last week, detailing a winning spree. Since then, Philadelphia racked up three more wins without a loss, and the Sixers haven’t dropped a game since Dec. 23 against Atlanta. Philadelphia’s peripherals still aren’t incredible, but this recent stretch is highly encouraging, especially with a looming Ben Simmons trade if they want to make one.

7. Dallas Mavericks (22-18, Last week — 11th)

Dallas has national TV road games in New York and Memphis on Wednesday and Friday. Those are nice tests for the resurgent Mavs, and it would be nice to see a little more from Doncic as he gets back in the swing of things.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (26-17, Last week — 6th)

The Bucks got swept by the Hornets in a two-game set in Charlotte, which isn’t ideal by any stretch. Milwaukee was without Jrue Holiday, though, and the Bucks are forced to play some lineups that aren’t exactly reminiscent of their championship run. Overall, things are just fine, but they haven’t been full strength much this season.

9. Brooklyn Nets (25-14, Last week — 8th)

Quietly, the Nets are only 4-6 in the last 10 games. Brooklyn’s defense looks strong on paper, but the Nets have allowed 1.16 points per possession in January. The Nets have been better on offense, but they aren’t firing at the same level they were a season ago when it comes to putting the ball in the basket.

10. Miami Heat (25-15, Last week — 10th)

This is going to be an interesting week for Miami. The Heat just picked up a pair of road wins over Portland and Phoenix, but Miami now faces Atlanta (twice), Philadelphia, and Toronto in the next four contests. Expectations are high for the Heat, and they can set the tone a bit in the East with this stretch.

11. Cleveland Cavaliers (23-18, Last week — 9th)

The last two losses for Cleveland are totally explainable in that they came to Memphis and Golden State. Zooming out, though, the Cavs have leveled off a bit with a 4-6 mark in the last 10 games. If you’re looking for optimism, Cleveland is still 21-14 when Darius Garland plays this season.

12. Toronto Raptors (20-18, Last week — 16th)

Toronto saw a six-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday, but the Raptors still rise in the rankings. For one, the streak-busting loss came by a narrow margin to the No. 1 Suns. For another, the Raptors are now up to No. 13 in the NBA in net rating and, since the beginning of December, Toronto is 11-5 with a +4.4 net rating.

13. Charlotte Hornets (22-19, Last week — 20th)

After a hollow period, the Hornets just enjoyed a great week. Charlotte won three straight, bludgeoning the Pistons before sweeping the Bucks in a two-game set. The Hornets showcasing an elite offense, scoring 112.6 points per 100 possessions, and that is good enough to keep them afloat with even reasonable defensive efficiency.

14. Los Angeles Lakers (21-20, Last week — 14th)

Sunday’s loss to the Grizzlies wasn’t tremendous in that Memphis was simply the more physical team. Before that, the Lakers did win four games in a row, but all four wins came at home against non-elite opponents. That qualifies as a “ho-hum” kind of winning streak.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-21, Last week — 15th)

Minnesota might’ve risen in the pecking order if not for Brandon Ingram’s game-winner on Tuesday. That isn’t a disastrous loss for the Wolves, but they did give up nearly 130 points and it wasn’t the best performance. Now, Minnesota faces Memphis and Golden State in the next two games. That’s a challenge for any team.

16. Boston Celtics (20-21, Last week — 13th)

The Celtics have been within two games of the .500 mark every day since Nov. 3. Boston is the epitome of average right now, and there is a great deal of consternation around that. They do have a top-five defense, but the offense is ugly, both on paper and on the floor.

17. New York Knicks (20-21, Last week — 17th)

New York hasn’t been the same this season on defense, but that doesn’t apply to the last nine games. The Knicks are 6-3 in their last nine, giving up only 1.04 points per possession during that run. Opponent shooting struggles always help, but there is nothing terribly out of the ordinary in the numbers, and it would be fair to suggest the Knicks can (or should) be better on defense than they have been in the first half of the campaign.

18. L.A. Clippers (21-21, Last week — 18th)

A head-to-head win over Denver on Tuesday keeps the Clippers one spot ahead of the Nuggets. That isn’t to say things are going well in L.A., because they aren’t, but the Clippers did pick up a nice win over the scuffling Hawks on Sunday and followed it up with another victorious effort.

19. Denver Nuggets (20-19, Last week — 12th)

Usually, holding an opponent to 87 points is enough to win in the current NBA. The Nuggets did that against the Clippers on Tuesday and lost anyway. A six-game homestand begins on Thursday, though, with the opportunity to pick up some wins.

20. Washington Wizards (21-20, Last week — 19th)

It isn’t a celebratory occasion to beat the Magic and Thunder, but the Wizards did just win back-to-back games. Of course, that was followed by the news that Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a scuffle during the game, casting a shadow over an otherwise positive evening.

21. Atlanta Hawks (17-22, Last week — 22nd)

If you want to take a positive viewpoint, the Hawks are no longer battered by COVID protocols, and this is the healthiest the team has been in weeks. If you want to face the other direction, Atlanta is 6-13 in the last 19 games, with some reported frustration in the mix, and the defense is a true problem.

22. New Orleans Pelicans (15-26, Last week — 26th)

As noted in the Wolves section above, New Orleans picked up a last-second win behind Brandon Ingram on Tuesday. The Pelicans haven’t fully overcome a hideous 3-16 start, but they are 12-10 in the last 22 games. That’s closer to what was expected from New Orleans this season.

23. San Antonio Spurs (15-25, Last week — 21st)

Just three weeks ago, the Spurs seemed to be coming on strong after a 10-5 stretch. Since then, San Antonio is 1-7 with a hideous offensive rating (102.2 points per 100) that makes the team’s overall profile appear ugly. The good news is that the Spurs have the next six games at home, but they gave back the gains from December.

24. Portland Trail Blazers (16-24, Last week — 25th)

It’s been fashionable, even in this space, to bury the Blazers without Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. There are big-picture concerns with this roster situation, but Portland is 3-2 in the last five games before starting a six-game road trip. It could be worse!

25. Indiana Pacers (15-26, Last week — 27th)

Indiana’s season-long profile remains incredibly weird. The Pacers are 15th in the NBA in net rating, basically playing dead-even basketball in the process. However, Indiana is 3-10 in the last 13 games, falling 11 games under .500 at the midway point of the season. Good luck parsing that.

26. Sacramento Kings (16-27, Last week — 23rd)

Unlike some other teams in this range, the Kings are definitely trying to make the play-in tournament. They’re just having trouble finding success. Five straight losses push Sacramento into a tie for the No. 12 spot in the West, and they need to pick a direction quickly.

27. Detroit Pistons (9-31, Last week — 28th)

The Pistons got absolutely annihilated by the Bulls on Tuesday. That took some of the shine off the week, but Detroit beat another lottery contender in Orlando and then put together an impressive win over Utah. Cade Cunningham was brilliant against the Jazz and, really, that is better than any win-loss result would’ve been for Detroit.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-27, Last week — 24th)

The Thunder are 0-5 in 2022. That is closer to what was expected of Oklahoma City than a relatively impressive 2021 performance, but the Thunder are still competitive. Four of those five losses came by single digits.

29. Houston Rockets (11-31, Last week — 29th)

The Rockets have a 15-game losing streak, a seven-game winning streak and an eight-game losing streak in the same half of a season. That’s truly wild. Houston is 1-11 in the last 12 games, and opponents scored 122.9 points per 100 possessions in those 12 contests. Yikes.

30. Orlando Magic (7-34, Last week — 30th)

Since mid-November, the Magic are 3-23. That kind of run speaks for itself in how gross it’s been, and Orlando has been outscored by 9.7 points per 100 possessions. The Pistons and Rockets aren’t far off when it comes to point differential, but a closer look leaves Orlando in pole position for the lead in draft position.