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The Mavericks’ recent play shows improvement across the board

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Through the last five games the Mavericks are 4-1 and showing signs of life.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks looked dead to rights sitting at 2-7 when the calendar turned to November. After winning two of the first three, Dallas lost six straight, sandwiched by two disheartening defeats against the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks. The only thing more intimidating than the record itself was the gauntlet of teams the Mavericks had to face in the immediate future. The team looked destined for another 2-13 start that doomed the past two seasons.

But a recent 4-1 stretch has the Mavericks at 6-8 overall and in the thick of things in the early stages of the season. While two of those victories came against the dysfunctional Washington Wizards and lottery-bound Chicago Bulls, the Mavs also took care of business against an Oklahoma City Thunder squad playing on little rest and demoralized the Utah Jazz in historic fashion.

A few weeks back Kevin Pelton of ESPN published an article suggesting the Mavericks’ (and their opponents’) shot quality might regress to the mean. Basically, the Mavericks were getting good looks (but not connecting), and opponents were making shots at an unsustainable rate. When taking a look at the statistics from the last five games, it appears things are finally evening out for the Mavericks.

Efficiency

First and foremost the Mavericks are shooting a higher percentage in the last five games than they did earlier this season. Since the victory against the Wizards, the Mavs are shooting 49.7 percent from the field (best in the NBA) compared to 45.3 percent, which was the team’s field goal percentage up until November 5. In turn, the team is sporting the NBA’s best effective field goal percentage (57.3) and true shooting percentage (61.7) during this five game stretch.

The Mavericks have also found more success from behind the arc where the team is canning 39.9 percent of its attempts (fourth highest in the NBA) since November 5 compared to 34 percent in the games prior. Finally, Dallas is giving itself an easy opportunity at points by getting to the free throw line. Since the Wizards’ visit, the Mavs are attempting 27.4 field goal attempts per game (3rd highest amount), and the team is shooting at the charity stripe at a league-best rate (.353).

Defense

Throughout the young season, the Mavericks have struggled with defensive effort. Guards were struggling to fight through screens, big men weren’t reacting timely while guarding the screens, and everyone was slow to contest open shooters on the perimeter. With a little bit of effort (and maybe some luck) Dallas finally looks like a team that’s played defense before.

In this five game stretch, the Mavericks are the best in the league in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (45.6), field goal percentage (40.3), three point percentage (27) and opponent points per game (95.8). Dallas also owns the league’s best defensive rating at 95.2.

Now, these statistics are somewhat skewed by the Mavericks bludgeoning of the Jazz. Games like that don’t happen often, if ever again. Rick Carlisle alluded to that post game.

“They had a horrible night, but we had something to do with that,” Carlisle explained to the media. “But we’re not this good and they’re not that bad.”

In other words: effort and luck.

However, even before last night’s 118-68 that resulted in defensive statistical outliers, the Mavericks were hovering around top-ten or better in the metrics mentioned above during the previous four games.

One aspect that could probably be taken into more consideration is the unusual preseason the Mavericks had. Dallas spent about a week in China (along with the Philadelphia 76ers who are 9-6), and it’s been covered how that trip historically has a negative effect on teams’ win totals.

On top of that, the Mavericks were without two key starters in Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan for most of the exhibition games, meaning the first few weeks of the season was the only time the Mavericks starters had the opportunity to feel each other out. It takes time to gel, especially when adding two new pieces to the lineup in Jordan and Luka Doncic.

This five game stretch could quickly prove to be fool’s gold. Dallas gets the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers in six of the next eight games. The league will soon find out if the Mavericks have truly turned the page after a slow start.

But for now, the Mavericks are playing winning basketball, and it’s a joy to watch.

All stats courtesy of nba.com and are current as of November 15.