The victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday afternoon gave Dallas their 13th victory of the season and a 13-6 over all record. If history is any guide, then the Mavericks may have already secured a playoff position.
Mavericks’ play-by-play radio announcer Chuck Cooperstein shared a NBA.com post from pre-season pointing out that the first 20 games are a great historical indicator of playoff likelihood.
Per this chart, teams that win at least 12 of their first 20 games have made the playoffs 92 percent of the time over the last 20 NBA seasons. The Mavericks’ schedule has been as soft, as expected, and Dallas has broadly capitalized. Despite an increasing schedule difficulty for the final 75 percent of the season, the early lead in the standings is historically important for playoff likelihood.
538’s playoff predictions (click between RAPTOR and ELO at the top) are equally of interest compared to historical trends. In their player-based RAPTOR ratings, Dallas has a 94 percent chance of making the playoffs as of this writing.* That rating is entirely based off of their player projections and the general talent of the team. However, the 538 ELO forecast gives the Mavericks a 78 percent chance. The stark difference in chances (while still being very good) seems mainly to be the result of the increasing difficulty of the Dallas schedule.
Considering that most pundits had Dallas on the outside looking in on the playoffs, this quick reversal is a bit surprising. Though they’re unlikely to continue winning 66% of their games throughout the year, the Mavericks are ahead of schedule. Right now, it seems that the playoffs are a real possibility, even a likelihood and with that expectation growing, so does the idea that once there they might be capable of advancing.
I certainly thought they’d be good, but not this good. Though we’ve seen less than a quarter of the season, it’s safe to say these Dallas Mavericks are a force to be reckoned with.
*Editor’s note: this piece was submitted before Sunday’s victory over the Lakers, so some stats may be slightly out of date.