The Mavericks have been playing much better ball as of late.
They almost look like a real team, rotations are better, health is better. They’ve had some convincing wins, some close losses, and Dirk looks like he’s gonna gut it out, at least for this season.
We asked our staff: now that the team is close to full strength and has been playing better of late, assuming they aren't trying to tank, where do you now see the Mavs finishing in the West? How do you feel about your answer?
Dallas has played one of the league's hardest schedules thus far (toughest or second-toughest, depending on your measure). They've arguably been hit the hardest by injuries. If they decide to trade players like Andrew Bogut and Deron WIlliams for anything they can get, I'm not so sure those are losses that move the needle. I'll peg Dallas right around 33-50 at the end of the year, which should be around 12th in the West and a decent shot at a top pick. That record would be just under .500 (24-26) the rest of the way. Even that seems a little rosy, and assumes Dallas will take care of business against the dregs of the league rather than becoming part of them.
If we're going to assume some relative health, the Mavericks have too much talent, pride, and veteran savy to be anything below 25 wins. I'll just be generous and assume 28-54. I agree with J.C. that any moves in terms of Bogut or Williams are devastating. The team might not be laden with top tier talent, but there's a fair amount of replacement level depth on the roster. Of course, a lot of this is hard to predict with injuries and rotations. We've seen a few games where the Mavericks look good with Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea, only to have those guys rest after hitting minutes restrictions.
Call me crazy but I think making the playoffs is not out of the question. They're only five games back from the 8th seed. That's not an insurmountable feat. Of course, this team would have to be 100% healthy and play at a much higher level than they have been to sneak into a playoff spot. I don't know that they can do that. What i do know is that this is a stubborn and proud group of players and they aren't going to give up. Nothing is out of the question but they sure have quite the hole to crawl out of.
Unless Dallas makes some trades, I'm closer in thinking to Doyle here. If J.J. comes back soon and there aren't any more injuries to key contributors, I estimate Dallas will finish right around the 9th seed. It's clear that the new players are starting to get used to playing together, Rick Carlisle is starting to figure out his rotations, and Dirk is coming back. The past few games have shown the Mavs are reaching a place where they can compete with all but the top tier teams in the NBA. Which isn't great. They've dug themselves such a hole that nothing good will come of success from this point onward. Even if everything goes right, it will be a challenge just to make the 8th seed. And even if they do that, is getting blown out and swept by the basketball Death Star really a reward for anyone? I don't even think they'll manage that. I say they put in all this work, have an inspirational 2017, and still don't make the playoffs. Then they don't get a top tier draft pick, and come back to do it again next year.
December really has been a much better month for the Mavericks. They still have two games left as I'm writing this, but they've managed to go .400 so far, a huge improvement over a dismal first month in which they went 3-14. Unfortunately, I'm a little more pessimistic than J.C. and I think this is probably the ceiling for this team. Assuming they're able to keep up this .400 pace for the rest of the season, they're going to end up with just 29 wins, which still leaves them pretty close to the bottom of the Western Conference barrel. But this strikes me as something like a win-win situation going forward: it leaves the Mavericks with a shot at a good draft pick, but it means the worst of this season is behind us and we can get back to watching fun if not great Mavericks basketball until April. As we saw in November, it could be a lot worse!
I will take it upon myself to be the optimist/fool of the group. If the team can stay healthy, then I’m predicting that Dallas finishes 35-48, going 2 games over .500 the rest of the way. As the season progresses, the flashes of basketball competence are turning into minutes and quarters. Minutes restrictions to some of the team’s top players don’t help, but if Dirk and Barea can become fully available in the near future, this team should be win at least half of their games. Oh, and some consistency from Deron Williams wouldn’t hurt either. That said, it is crazy that the Mavs are not out of the playoff hunt. As much as it is an unpopular opinion, I’d like to see the team go for it. Barring a miracle, this team is going to be bad once Dirk retires, so why not get 4 more playoff games of Dirk while we still can? I'm all in for #Mavsfor8th.