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NBA Power Rankings Watch: the Mavericks are searching for answers

It’s been tough sledding for the Dallas Mavericks, as they keep trying to regain their balance.

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NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor’s note: this got turned in Tuesday but the Mavericks have only played the Lakers since)

It feels like we’re always inching toward a cliff this season. Every few days the Mavericks will play so confidently you’re sure you are watching a team that has found their footing; only for them to turn directly into another chasm the next game. The paths taken have been puzzling, frustrating, and at times fully unbelievable. But here we are.

This week’s PRW features the Mavericks at their lowest cumulative ranking among national media. Is it the system? Injuries? Out of shape superstars? The general answer is Yes.

ESPN

Rank: 18

Last week: 14

Here’s a rarity: The Mavs’ single-season record for made 3s was set before the turn of the century. George McCloud still holds it with the 257 that he hit in 1995-96, when only four players in the league made more than 200 3s. Tim Hardaway Jr. is the only other player in franchise history to hit more than 200 3s in a season, having done it twice. — MacMahon

The Athletic

Rank: 15 (Playoff Hopefuls)

Last week: 16

1st Q: +3.2 net rating | Ranked 12th

2nd Q: -1.9 net rating | Ranked 18th

3rd Q: -5.2 net rating | Ranked 20th

4th Q: -1.1 net rating | Ranked 16th

Clutch: -22.1 net rating | Ranked 27th | 12 games (6-6)

Takeaway: It doesn’t feel like things are going in the right direction for the Dallas Mavericks when you break down how bad things get after the first quarter. Sure, some of this is skewed because of the games they missed Luka Doncic. But even with him, they’re underperforming, especially on offense. Their spacing, at times, looks inebriated. Luka has admitted his conditioning isn’t the greatest, and that might explain why he’s constantly settling for stepback jumpers and the team is falling apart after halftime. They’re in for some rough stretches with close games if they keep getting dominated like that. The 6-6 record in those games seems a bit like a farce based on their net rating, but again, it’s a small sample size.

NBA

Rank: 18

Last week: 16

Pace: 96.4 (27) OffRtg: 107.3 (22) DefRtg: 108.2 (15) NetRtg: -0.9 (20)

If you’ve figured out the Mavs after 26 games, please let the rest of us know what’s going on. Maybe, to have figured out the Mavs is to understand that there’s no figuring them out. They’re the only team to have beaten the Grizzlies in the last 16 days, scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter (against what has been a great defense of late) on Wednesday, despite six turnovers in the period. But they followed that win with a loss in Indiana, shooting 4-for-29 from 3-point range.

The Mavs began the month of December with the highest effective field goal percentage in a game in NBA history (79.5%), and they’ve failed to crack 50% (the league average is 52.1%) in five of their six games since then. Remember when this team (with mostly the same players) had the most efficient offense in NBA history two seasons ago?

Luka Doncic continuing to be hobbled by an ankle injury could be a factor in the Mavs’ recent struggles. They did get their first win of the season without their star on Sunday, holding the Thunder to just 84 points on 95 possessions. They’ve now allowed 11.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Doncic off the floor (100.8) than they have with him on the floor (112.2), though Tim Hardaway Jr. has an even worse on-off differential (13.0 per 100).

The seventh-place Mavs have a three-day break later this weak, but will likely be without Doncic again on Monday (when they get their first crack at the Hornets’ 30th-ranked defense) and Wednesday (when they play their first of three games against the sixth-place Lakers).

Bleacher Report

Rank: 16

Last week: 17

Early-season stories about Luka Doncic’s conditioning have become something of an annual tradition, but this year, we got some specifics.

“Sources told ESPN that Doncic reported to training camp weighing more than 260 pounds for the second consecutive year,” ESPN’s Tim MacMahon wrote. “His listed weight is 230 pounds.”

With Doncic seemingly using the first couple of weeks of the season to get into shape, it maybe shouldn’t be surprising to see the team’s point differential under water.

But the last few weeks suggest he’s turning a corner. In his first 13 games, Luka averaged 24.9 points, 7.9 assists and 2.5 threes while shooting 30.8 percent from three. Over his last seven, he’s averaging 26.7 points, 9.4 assists and 3.4 threes while shooting 38.1 percent from three.

Sports Illustrated

Rank: 15

Last Week: 18

Dallas is aching for another playmaker alongside Luka Dončić. The Mavericks enter Monday No. 22 in offensive rating and No. 21 in assist rate, and their offense completely stalls on any night when Dončić is inefficient from the field. We shouldn’t hit the total panic button in Dallas. Kristaps Porziņģis has benefited from Jason Kidd’s arrival. Tim Hardaway Jr. is bound to improve from his 32.4% mark from three. Though ultimately, Dallas is nothing more than an also-ran in the Western Conference without more scoring and playmaking alongside its young superstar.