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Dallas Mavericks Report Card: Games 63-67

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The Mavericks sit comfortably in fifth place in the Western Conference.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown:

The Dallas Mavericks finish this stretch 4-1 and improve to 39-28 on the season.

In the last report I wondered if we would see a healthy Kristaps Porzingis within these last five games. The answer is no, and the answer to when he will be available to play again is not entirely clear. With only another quintet of games to go in the regular season, it is imperative that Porzingis plays two or three of them to get his legs back under him before the playoffs.

Game 63 against the Wizards was one of Luka Doncic’s signature performances, as he put up a monster triple double. 31 points, 12 rebounds, and a career-high 20 assists were just barely enough to lift Dallas over Russell Westbrook’s 42 points. Assist number 20 put the Mavericks up for good with 9.2 seconds remaining:

Like clockwork, the Mavericks had once again won three games in a row and, once again, had a meeting with the Sacramento Kings, and lost. The bad news is that the Kings are terrible. The good news is that recent history tells us that Dallas will win another three games in a row as they had done the previous two times they lost to Sacramento. They were going to have to go through Miami and Brooklyn to do this, but the Mavericks were up for the challenge. Behind Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 36 points, Dallas took care of the Heat in South Beach. They flew home for a Thursday night game with the Nets, where a clutch fadeaway by Luka Doncic over Kevin Durant gave the Mavericks the space they needed to pull away from Brooklyn:

A heavily depleted Cavaliers team awaited the Mavericks in game 67, and with little resistance Dallas fulfilled their prophecy and once again one their third consecutive game after losing to the Kings.

The Mavericks are now 9-3 in their last 12 games, with the only three losses being to Sacramento, and to better understand this strange phenomenon, All Things Mavs on Twitter has a helpful graphic:

Luka Doncic became the fourth youngest, and fastest current player to reach 5000 points, after sinking a free throw in the first quarter against Cleveland. With his 31 point, 20 assist, 12 rebound game against the Wizards, he joined elite company as the fourth player to post 30 points and 20 assists in a triple double. Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Russell Westbrook are the only other players to do it. Maybe even more impressive than that, Doncic only turned the ball over one time in that win over Washington.

After the win against the Cavaliers, Dallas gained sole possession of fifth in the West, and Rick Carlisle moved into 15th place in all time coaching wins, with 833. In addition, they clinched the Southwest Division title, their fourth in franchise history and first since 2010.

There have been good rookie minutes recently, with Josh Green providing a big spark against Miami and Brookyln, while Nate Hinton got extended run against Cleveland where he scored a career-high eight points.

Kristaps Porzingis has been out since April 30th and Maxi Kleber has missed the last three games with a sore Achilles.

Grade: A

The Mavericks are improving at the right time. As seen with the graph, this season has been up and down, dealing with injuries and health protocol, but the Mavericks are finally finding their groove. More specifically, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Luka Doncic are all trending upwards as the season moves from regular to post.

Finney-Smith has been the three-and-D guy that we hoped he could be. Over his last 11 games, of which the Mavericks are 8-3, he is putting up 13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game on 58.7 percent from the field and 50.8 percent from three. Along with guarding the opposition’s best wing the majority of the time, Finney-Smith has been a legitimate offensive threat. He has looked more confident with the ball, and has even created his own shot on some isolation plays. He has shot 29-of-58 (50 percent) on shots where he takes between two and six dribbles before shooting, and 42-of-86 (48.8 percent) on shots where he has the ball for two to six seconds.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is currently on his best stretch of the season, and possibly even his career. Over his last five he is averaging 27.4 points on 54 percent shooting and 50 percent from downtown on a whopping 10 attempts per game. For comparison, Stephen Curry is shooting 43 percent on 12 attempts per game. Hardaway Jr. tied the franchise record with 10 threes against Miami, and has tallied 20+ points in three straight. He has been the Mavericks second-best player this year because of his availability and shooting prowess, and Dallas is going to need his shot making to continue if they hope to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

Luka Doncic has been sensational recently, and although Nikola Jokic may be the favorite for MVP, Doncic has been making a hard push for consideration. 20 assists against Washington, near triple-doubles against Miami and Brooklyn, including the shot that buried the Nets with just over a minute to play, and 24 points in 23 minutes against Cleveland are all performances Doncic has had in wins over the last five games. He is incredibly consistent, and consistently finds a way to win.

The play of these three guys has inspired players like Dwight Powell, Jalen Brunson, and Josh Green to produce meaningful minutes, leading to incredible team effort. Josh Richardson is the wild card role player, and if he can play the way he did against Cleveland (18 points, three assists, three steals, and a block), then the Mavericks will be able to ride this upward trend and peak at the right time.

The loss to Sacramento prevented Dallas from acquiring their second A+ grade of the season.

Key Stat: 5

This is the Dallas Mavericks’ magic number for a successful playoff run.

Dallas enters the final five game stretch of the season as the fifth seed in the Western Conference. If they finish as the fifth seed, they will receive five days off before the playoffs.

First and foremost, finishing as the fifth seed would mean the Mavericks avoided the play-in, which means an extra five days of practice and rest time before starting the postseason. This is crucial because the Mavericks have two key starters out, in Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber, and being able to have more time to get them healthy could make or break the Mavericks’ postseason. being able to practice and scheme for a team you know you’re going to see at least four times is invaluable as well, especially in a season where practice is scarce. Finishing fifth also means the Mavericks have a good chance at playing Denver in the first round, a much better alternative to the Clippers. Denver is without star point guard Jamal Murray, whereas Los Angeles is healthy and playing very well right now.

The final five games are all must-wins, and if Dallas sweeps them, they earn themselves rest and their highest playoff seed since 2011.

One big question for the next five games:

Can Dallas avoid the play-in?

The Mavericks have games against Cleveland, Memphis, New Orleans, Toronto, and Minnesota to finish out the 2021 season. All of these teams except Memphis are under .500 and Dallas has beaten each team at least once, except Toronto. Finishing out the season on an eight game winning streak and avoiding the play-in tournament is very doable, but the Mavericks have a history of playing down to their competition. Whether or not Dallas has fixed that issue will come to light in the final stretch of games, and could determine whether or not they’re playing when the play-in tournament starts on May 18th.