The Dallas Mavericks entered the 2020-21 season with sky-high expectations. That comes with the territory after the team “arrived” early by posting a 43-32 record last season, and doubly so after Dallas took two games from the L.A. Clippers in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. From there, the Mavericks are led by one of the game’s brightest young stars in Luka Doncic and, in some circles, Doncic was the betting favorite to win the 2020-21 NBA MVP award when the season tipped off.
Then, the Mavericks stumbled out of the gate by any description, aided by injuries and absences due to health and safety protocols. Dallas lost seven out of eight games from Jan. 23 through Feb. 4, falling to 9-14 on the season. In that eight-game stretch, Rick Carlisle’s team bottomed out defensively, yielding 1.22 points per possession, and they were outscored by more than 10 points per 100 possessions. Though it was too early for panic, Doncic wasn’t playing at quite as high of a level as he was previously and, of larger concern, the Mavericks’ supporting cast scuffled, particularly when it came to getting stops.
Given the difficulty of the Western Conference, it was perhaps fair to be worried about the Mavericks but, as of late March, the team is suddenly back where it needs to be. Admittedly, Dallas is only the No. 8 seed in the conference and, again, the standings are bunched up with high-end teams all over the board. However, the Mavericks are a blistering 13-5 since the 1-7 hiccup, and Dallas owns a top-five net rating (+6.4) in that 18-game sample.
Most of the gains come as a result of a red-hot offense, and that isn’t a surprise. With Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and an offense-focused roster, the Mavericks are scoring more than 1.19 points per possession in the last 18 games. That explosion brings the Mavericks into the top 10 of the NBA in offensive rating for the full season (113.8). While that isn’t quite as dominant as the team’s league-leading mark (115.9) from a season ago, it is enough to bring the Mavericks back to relevance.
As you may expect, Doncic is the biggest individual reason for the uptick. The third-year perimeter creator is averaging 31.4 points, 8.9 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game during this recent stretch. He is also converting almost 52 percent of his shots, including 44.7 percent of his three-point offerings. Doncic’s Achilles heel as an offensive star has been perimeter accuracy and, well, that isn’t an issue right now. Even when/if that regresses, he has a fully developed arsenal, and the Mavericks are 12-4 in the last 16 games when he plays. In fact, Dallas is 7.8 points per 100 possessions better for the season when he plays, and that figure jumps to +12.5 during the 13-5 run.
There are key supporting pieces as well, headlined by Porzingis. The big man has been highly efficient, scoring 19.8 points and posting 50/41/84 shooting splits since the positive surge began. Moreover, Porzingis is looking slightly less calcified defensively and, for the Mavericks to reach their short- and long-term goals, he must be a legitimate positive on that end.
Make no mistake, the Mavericks still have plenty of work to do, as a 21-18 overall record isn’t going to earn them any parades. Still, the concerns of the opening stanza of the season are beginning to fade, and Dallas is now seemingly on track to at least meet expectations in the grand scheme.
Where do the Mavericks land in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s explore.
1. Brooklyn Nets (29-14, Last week — 1st)
The Nets did have a pretty bad loss this week, falling in Orlando. Even then, Brooklyn almost pulled off a miracle comeback in the fourth quarter, and the Nets are a blistering 15-2 in the last 17 games. Kyrie Irving is going to miss the next few games, and Kevin Durant is still out, but there is no reason to drop the Nets right now.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (28-14, Last week — 4th)
There is only one team in the NBA with longer than a two-game winning streak, and it’s the Bucks at seven in a row. If you want to extend that out, Milwaukee is also 12-1 in the last 13, and they are stifling teams in allowing fewer than 1.06 points per possession over that run. Blasting the Pacers (without Giannis) on Monday was the latest example of how scary they can be.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (30-13, Last week — 2nd)
The absence of Joel Embiid certainly looms over everything in Philadelphia. It goes without saying the 76ers aren’t the same without him but, given the relatively good news about his injury prognosis, we can leave Philadelphia near the top of the league. After all, they are 17-4 in the last 21 games. That’ll work.
4. Phoenix Suns (28-13, Last week — 3rd)
Phoenix just keeps winning. They’re 20-5 in the last 25 games and, even with a weird home loss to Minnesota this week, they bounced back to garner revenge on the Wolves and beat the Lakers. It wasn’t the full-strength Lakers, but the Suns can only beat the teams in front of them.
5. Utah Jazz (31-11, Last week — 5th)
Utah has the best record and the best net rating in the league. Utah is also 5-5 in the last 10 with a bottom-10 defensive rating (114.6) in those games. It will be interesting to see where the team’s actual baseline lands, because it’s probably in the middle of their early-season onslaught and whatever this recent iteration is.
6. L.A. Clippers (28-16, Last week — 8th)
L.A. was flat-out dreadful for 2.5 quarters on Monday… and it didn’t matter. The Clippers flipped a switch in the second half to beat the Hawks, and they are scary when they’re right. The concern would be that they won’t be “right” often enough, but they’ve finally snapped their month-long streak of not winning back-to-back games.
7. Dallas Mavericks (22-19, Last week — 11th)
The Mavs have the chance to keep it rolling with their four-game schedule this week. Three games are on the road, but their opponents are Minnesota, New Orleans and Oklahoma City, sandwiched around a home date with Indiana on Friday.
8. Denver Nuggets (25-17, Last week — 6th)
Denver is 8-2 in the last 10 and they’re heading on a road trip to Orlando and Tampa this week. That isn’t the worst setup in the world. The Nuggets would be higher than this in the rankings if not for a shaky home loss to New Orleans in their last outing.
9. Atlanta Hawks (22-21, Last week — 12th)
The Hawks were the hottest team in the NBA until Monday and, even within that matchup against the Clippers, it seemed like Atlanta was going to cruise to a ninth straight win. Then, they blew a 22-point advantage in the second half, and that isn’t ideal. In the big picture, though, Atlanta has been playing great under Nate McMillan and they are getting healthier with the return of De’Andre Hunter.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (28-15, Last week — 7th)
It would’ve felt dirty to drop the Lakers outside the top 10 but, at the moment, they are worse than this. There is no evidence that the Lakers can score effectively without LeBron and Anthony Davis, and that was on full display in losses to Atlanta and Phoenix over the weekend.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (25-17, Last week — 14th)
Portland is 7-3 in the last 10 games, and they are closer to their ready-made roster with CJ McCollum back. At some point, the Blazers may stop winning every single close game, but those wins are in the bank. Damian Lillard is pretty good, too.
12. San Antonio Spurs (22-18, Last week — 15th)
The schedule is pretty weird for the Spurs in the near future, with a nine-game homestand. Granted, San Antonio started that with a disappointing loss to Charlotte, but they don’t even need to go on a run. Simply holding the line would do the trick.
13. Memphis Grizzlies (20-20, Last week — 19th)
All of the wins came at home, but it was a very good week for Memphis. They beat Boston, Miami and Golden State to get back to .500, and the Grizzlies have a pretty comfortable lead in the No. 10 spot in the West. That may not seem like much, but they’re in a good spot.
14. Boston Celtics (21-22, Last week — 10th)
After a positive run, the Celtics just had a five-game week and they went 1-4. The only win came at home over Orlando, and there are rumors swirling in a big way around Boston. One thing is certain, and it’s that the Celtics aren’t great as currently constructed.
15. Golden State Warriors (22-21, Last week — 16th)
It’s hard to say how real it is, but former first-round pick Jordan Poole is cooking right now. Since joining the rotation in early March, Poole is averaging 20.9 points per game in seven appearances, and he’s doing it in 26.4 minutes per game. Some of his shooting (55/44/88) is unsustainably hot, but it would help the Warriors if they had another shot creator, particularly when Steph Curry sits.
16. Indiana Pacers (19-23, Last week — 20th)
Indiana is really hard to read right now. They’ve had a brutal schedule in March and, with that in mind, their 4-9 recent record isn’t as ugly. Then, the Pacers swept the Heat (in Miami) over the weekend, only to be annihilated by the Giannis-less Bucks on Monday. I’m throwing up my hands on this one for another week.
17. Miami Heat (22-21, Last week — 9th)
Miami has to land behind Indiana after back-to-back losses in that series this weekend. Before that, the Heat failed to crack 90 points in a loss to Memphis. There are still lingering positives, as highlighted a week ago in this space, but the peripherals aren’t great. Miami is 25th (!) in offense right now.
18. New Orleans Pelicans (18-24, Last week — 21st)
You wouldn’t necessarily know it by following the zeitgeist, but the Pelicans have a puncher’s chance to make the play-in. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 19 percent chance which, ya know, isn’t great, but they’re only three games behind Memphis.
19. Charlotte Hornets (21-21, Last week — 13th)
It was not a good weekend in Charlotte. LaMelo Ball may miss the rest of the season and, on top of that, the Hornets lost three in a row. To their credit, they picked up a nice win over the Spurs on Monday, but it is hard to be extremely optimistic about Charlotte (in the short term) with Ball on the shelf.
20. New York Knicks (21-22, Last week — 17th)
It might be time for some alarm in New York. The Knicks are 3-5 in March with a -5.0 net rating and a defensive rating (112.4) that ranks 18th in the NBA for the month. It’s a small sample, but New York can’t maintain their pace if they aren’t deploying a top-flight defense.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-24, Last week — 22nd)
Mark Daigneault should probably be a Coach of the Year candidate. He probably shouldn’t win either, but the Thunder have absolutely no business being 19-24 right now. Oklahoma City’s available roster is a point of (sicko) interest on a nightly basis, and they continue to compete admirably.
22. Sacramento Kings (18-25, Last week — 26th)
The Kings just finished a long road trip by winning three of the last four games. Yes, they have an historically bad defense, allowing more than 1.18 points per possession, but they also have a pretty lofty ceiling when they are cooking on the other end. Individually, De’Aaron Fox is averaging 27.1 points and 8.2 assists per game in the last 13 games, putting the Kings on his back on some nights.
23. Chicago Bulls (19-23, Last week — 18th)
It feels rosier in Chicago than it probably is. FiveThirtyEight gives the Bulls just a 12 percent chance to make the playoffs, and that wasn’t bolstered by a 1-3 showing this week. Zach LaVine has been genuinely wonderful, but the rest of the puzzle is murky.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-27, Last week — 25th)
Cleveland still has the worst net rating (-8.0) in the league, but they aren’t really mentioned in the “worst teams” discussion. That is probably fair with the way they’ve played in the semi-recent past but, if you take a step back, they are 6-16 in the last 22 games. It isn’t necessarily great.
25. Washington Wizards (15-26, Last week — 24th)
If you want to be optimistic, you can say the Wizards are 9-9 in the last 18 games after a dismal start. If you want to be pessimistic, you can say the Wizards are 2-8 in the last 10 games. If you want to split the difference, you can say that Washington picked up a win over Utah (!) this week but also lost to Sacramento at home. Choose your own adventure.
26. Detroit Pistons (12-30, Last week — 27th)
The Pistons went 2-1 this week. Nevermind that the two wins came over teams ranked below them on this list, all of the victories count. For the season, Detroit’s net rating (-3.5) is closer to Miami and Charlotte than it is to Minnesota and Orlando.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-33, Last week — 28th)
Credit to the Wolves for playing much better basketball. They are 3-3 since the All-Star break and new head coach Chris Finch has some creativity flowing in the offense. Minnesota still isn’t good, but they seem to be having more fun and they are playing up to their roster in a way that wasn’t happening previously.
28. Orlando Magic (14-28, Last week — 29th)
There is something funny about the fact that, while Orlando is 1-10 in the last 11 games, the victory came over the No. 1 team in these rankings. The Magic are going to be fascinating in the next few days with the trade market heating up, but they are pretty brutal to watch on the court at the moment.
29. Houston Rockets (12-30, Last week — 30th)
All kidding aside, it was encouraging to see the Rockets win a basketball game on Monday night. That is especially true after video surfaced that displayed the anguish of head coach Stephen Silas, and nobody wants to lose 20 games in a row, even in the middle of an obvious rebuild. They’re still probably the worst team in the league right now, but they were outdone this week.
30. Toronto Raptors (17-26, Last week — 23rd)
The Raptors aren’t the worst team in the league, and everyone knows it. Now that I’ve said that, Toronto hasn’t won a game since Feb. 26, and they lost to Houston (by 18 points!) on Monday night. It should be noted that the Raptors are only 2.5 games out of the play-in tournament in the East, but it’s a total mess right now. Most of the damage came when they were short-handed, but they probably needed to avoid a sweep against Cleveland and Houston.