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Mavs Mailbag: closing lineups and playoff match-ups as a light holiday treat

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The Mavericks have some time off for the holidays, and we can take a breath to think about the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It’s holiday week, and the Mavericks have a few days off following a whirlwind five game stretch against the East elite. Even without Luka Doncic every game was winnable, and there were plenty of learning moments.

Now the Mavericks get a chance to refresh before fully jumping in to the next phase of the playoff chase. We’re all so busy mailing each other gifts that this week’s Mailbag is rather light. Still there’s plenty to ponder.

Let’s dive in — but before we do, thank you all for support of Mavs Moneyball and have a happy holiday week!

@bntzillaguy: What is the Mavs ceiling now? Is there a realistic trade possibility worth risking depth and team chemistry for? I’m ready to ride and die with this crew.

It’s become genuinely difficult to find a ceiling for this Mavericks squad. And that’s not to say everyone should be asking for Finals tickets this holiday season, but really because they continue to defy expectations.

You would have been forgiven for predicting a round 0-5 when Luka’s ankle bent in half and our hearts exploded. And yet, once again, this team surprised. Grabbing two wins can feel a tad disappointing (especially when you know each W could have been nabbed), but the week as a whole was wildly impressive.

I think fans are reasonable in believing this team could win a playoff series. Still, any postseason success will be match-up dependent at this point. Though it could have felt crazy before the season began, I think the Mavericks will find themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup and who’s to say past that.

As for trade possibilities, it’s so fun to dream and play GM, but I’m with you that I love this squad and don’t want to risk chemistry or the future to make wild swings. The second round pick the Mavericks will get from Golden State will be valuable (but I hope they keep it). There are really only two players off the top of my head that I’d be willing to consider shifting things around: Robert Covington or JJ Redick. But that’s for a longer discussion another day.

@RyMichail: If everything continues positively for the Mavs, as a whole, come playoff time...who will be part of the Mavs closing lineup to close most games. This obviously assumes no trades and probably opponent dependent. Also, best/worst first round matchup for this team?

This is complicated, and it’s not. There are nine lineups that have played at least 20 minutes together this season. The unit with the best Net Rating? Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis (a rating of 32.9). It’s hard to look at these lineups because this group here has played just 33 minutes together, while the standard starting lineup (inserting in Doncic and Dwight Powell) has played 162 minutes, with a 15.6 Net Rating.

The closing lineup will not just be opponent-dependent, but also situational-dependent. The three players that will surround Doncic and Porzingis will depend on what Rick Carlisle needs. It’s likely to feature two of Brunson, Hardaway, Finney-Smith and Seth Curry. And then Powell or Kleber.

My gut says the starters plus Kleber instead of Powell is your best closing lineup. But according to NBA.com, in their 39 minutes together they have a -2.4 Net Rating. Still, that’s the crew I’d want to ride with, subbing in Brunson or Curry for Hardaway depending on who’s hot.

Like I said before, I think the Mavericks will be in that 4-5 playoff matchup. And judging from the current standings that likely means facing one of the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, or Utah Jazz. But I’ve already quietly been talking in the Moneyball Slack conversations that the Mavericks just need to make sure they are 4th, 5th or 8th to avoid the assumed 2nd place Los Angeles Clippers (until the Western Conference Finals...). That is hands down the worst matchup.

Of that group above I’d be most worried about the Denver Nuggets if they get going. I think there’s a chance they matchup well with the Rockets in a series, and we’ve yet to see them face the Jazz. I like this team’s fight, and paired with Carlisle’s playoff wizardry, this team should be a hard out for any team.