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NBA Power Rankings Watch: the Mavericks keep climbing

On the back of a stout defense, the Mavericks have been one of the hottest teams in the league since the calendar turned to 2022.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

It’s one thing to be one of the hottest teams in the league over the last month. It’s another for the Dallas Mavericks to be doing it in a fashion MFFLs everywhere are not accustom to. Virtually no one on the team has found their outside shot, and yet they are still playing stifling defense. That hasn’t always been a trend in Dallas — in the past, when shots weren’t falling it also meant there was zero effort elsewhere. But not now. I don’t remember the last time the Mavericks were this scrappy.

Here is what national media is saying about the Mavericks in this week’s NBA Power Rankings Watch:

ESPN

Rank: 9

Last week: 10

The Mavs’ 10-2 record in January is the second best in the league behind only the Suns, who won in Dallas on Wednesday when the Mavs were on the second game of a back-to-back. Dallas’ 98.8 defensive rating this month ranks first by a margin of 5.7 points. Luka Doncic is starting to look like the first-team All-NBA player he’s been the past two seasons, posting his two highest-scoring games of the season last week, scoring 41 in a win over the Raptors and 37 in a win over the Grizzlies. — MacMahon

The Athletic

Rank: 10 (Playoff Hopefuls)

Last week: 11

Promising lineup: Luka Doncic | Jalen Brunson | Tim Hardaway Jr. | Dorian Finney-Smith | Dwight Powell | 95 minutes | +11.8 net rating

It’s interesting this is the Dallas Mavericks’ most used, positive lineup. No Kristaps Porzingis in here, and they’re super small with Powell at the five. But the playmaking of Doncic and Brunson keep the offense humming. They score over 120 points per 100 possessions, so the defense doesn’t have to be stellar. It’s still good because the Mavs’ defense has been great most of this season under Jason Kidd. It’s their offense that has been slow to come around, but this lineup helps pump up those numbers quite a bit. Their true shooting percentage is hovering above 62 percent.

Questionable lineup: Luka Doncic | Tim Hardaway Jr. | Dorian Finney-Smith | Kristaps Porzingis | Dwight Powell | 103 minutes | -17.1 net rating

This is the much more traditional and expected lineup for the Mavs, and it has been horrible. It’s their most-used lineup, but it’s getting shredded almost every time it’s on the court. It doesn’t really make sense that it would be so bad offensively. The Mavs score less than 96 points per 100 possessions with these five on the court. It’s simply them not making shots too. They do a great job of taking care of the ball, but the flow to get better shots seems to have escaped them. It can’t possibly be this dominated all year, right? Even though it’s their most-used lineup, it’s only 100 minutes on the season because of all the time missed. They should be able to find a rhythm on offense, but it’s concerning so far.

Bleacher Report

Rank: 8 (as of 1.21.22)

Last week: 12

Thursday’s home loss to the Phoenix Suns may have stymied momentum a bit, but it’s hard to argue that the Dallas Mavericks haven’t turned a corner in recent weeks.

Even with the recent loss, the Mavs are 10-2 in their last 12. And they are winning games with buy-in on the defensive end. Dallas is down to 106.4 points allowed per 100 possessions, a mark that ranks fourth in the league.

If Luka Doncic can get his shooting on track (he’s at 40.3 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from three over this 12-game run) while the rest of the team maintains this level of defense, Dallas will keep climbing the standings.

Sports Illustrated

Rank: 8

Last week: 10

Player to watch: Jalen Brunson

The Mavericks are now a defensive-minded team, meaning most decisions they make on offense are done to make life on the other end a bit easier. That affects where and when shots come from, which tends to up their degree of difficulty. But it doesn’t entirely explain why Brunson and Luka Doncic have been so incompatible when Dallas has the ball. As mentioned in this story about their defense, the Mavs’ offensive rating when Brunson and Luka share the court is trending in the wrong direction. But on his own, Brunson is a crafty mid-range maestro whose field-goal percentage on drives is second only to Giannis Antetokounmpo among players who average at least 10 per game.

NBA

Rank: 7

Last week: 11

The Mavs have won 11 of their last 13 games, allowing 6.0 fewer points per 100 possessions (99.0) than any other team over those 24 days. The stretch has included two wins over the Grizzlies, with the Mavs’ wire-to-wire victory on Sunday giving them the head-to-head tie-breaker, which just might matter. The Grizzlies’ ninth-ranked offense scored just 95.1 points per 100 possessions in four games against Dallas and has scored 112.7 per 100 against everybody else.

Dallas is still searching for offensive consistency, not just from game to game, but also from quarter to quarter. They held double-digit leads against Oklahoma City, Toronto and Phoenix last week, but all of those leads (basically) disappeared as they struggled to get buckets in the fourth quarter. They survived against the Thunder and Raptors, but a 20-4, fourth-quarter run from the Suns on Thursday (in which the Mavs as many turnovers as points over a stretch of 11 possessions) did them in. Phoenix swept the season series, though the three games were decided by a total of just 23 points.

The Mavs will now go for a second January win over the Warriors, having held Golden State to its worst offensive performance of the season (82 points on 95 possessions) in the first meeting. Even with the win over Toronto on Wednesday, the Mavs are still just 6-9 against the Eastern Conference. Their visit from the Pacers on Saturday is the start of a stretch where they’re playing five of six against the East.