After what can only be described as a rough start to the season, the Dallas Mavericks finished out the first half of the 2021-2022 NBA season on a high note, winning 9 of their last 11 games heading into the All-Star break. This stretch included wins against Atlanta, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami, all of whom are playoff contenders. Luka Dončić had been on an absolute tear to tend the first half (35.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 9.8 apg in his last 10), and key role players in Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson are both having arguably the best seasons of their careers, with the former inking a 4 year, $52 million extension. All of this has been done without what we thought would be key pieces of the rotation in Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway, Jr.. The Mavericks traded Porzingis at the deadline for depth additions in Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans, while THJ is potentially out for the season after undergoing foot surgery.
The recent stretch to end the first half of the season really said a lot about who the Mavericks were. After toying around with certain lineups to start the year (including due to COVID protocols and injuries), the Mavericks seemed to have settled on a starting five of Luka Dončić, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell. Out of all 5 man lineups in the NBA with 250 possessions, this starting lineup has the second best net rating in the league (+29.4) and an offensive rating of 134.9. Couple this with the fact that the Mavericks have a top 5 defense in the NBA (with an adjusted defensive rating of 108.57), there is no doubt Dallas is a top 10 team in the league. What this also shows, however, is the buy in of the roster to Jason Kidd’s new system, one that preaches defensive intensity and ball movement.
Consistency is key in the NBA. Many times we’ve seen teams complete great stretches of basketball only to falter as the season wears on. The Mavericks epitomized this early on in the year, but since Christmas have been consistent in their play (albeit some head scratching “that’s just what happens in the NBA” losses along the way). As we approach the second half of the season, the Mavericks must remain consistent in what coach Kidd has preached throughout the season. Their early schedule does them no favors, as the Mavericks take on the Jazz (twice), Warriors (twice), Lakers, Celtics and Nets in 7 of their first 10 games back. In fact, the other three games come against the Kings, Knicks and Rockets, two of whom have beaten the Mavericks this season. This opening stretch for Dallas seemingly will show exactly what this team is capable of. The Jazz sit 1.5 games in front of the Mavericks for the 4th seed in the Western Conference, and Dallas would surely like to have homecourt advantage as they advance in the playoffs. The Warriors are 2nd in the West, but looking to make a move to the top seed with the injury to Chris Paul. The Celtics are 9-1 in their last 10 games, the Nets should have Kevin Durant back and the Lakers always play the Mavericks closely.
Ultimately, the key for Dallas to to do what they’ve done the last few months: trust themselves. They’ve done a fantastic job of trusting their play on the offensive and especially the defensive end. The additions of Dinwiddie and Bertans, along with the return of Reggie Bullock from injury should provide more depth to the roster as well. Luka Dončić has returned to MVP form and the role players have excelled in what they’ve been asked to do. The Mavericks have a chance move into a top 4 seed and put the entire league on notice in the next few weeks. If they continue to trust the system, their teammates and themselves, Dallas could end up with homecourt in the playoffs for the first time since their title run in 2010-2011.
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