After the 16-18 start, the Mavs season felt like a loss. Their bench struggled, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were in and out of the line-up, and no one on the team seemed to hit a three. Since then, however, the Mavs have gone 19-7, and every loss is a disappointment rather than an expectation. Friday night, the 112-107 loss to the Utah Jazz was no different. The loss may have been even more disappointing than others because a win would have put them only a half-game behind the Jazz for the 4th seed. In addition, the Mavericks had a solid lead for most of the game and went on a 10-0 run late in the fourth to regain a four-point lead, but then struggled to score the rest of the way. Despite the disappointments, there are several reasons to be optimistic.
First, new additions Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans had great games coming off the bench, scoring 20 and 17 points, respectively. The Mavs will need them to step up like that if the Mavs are going to get past the first round. Davis was hitting his threes from all over the court, not just the corners, which will be very important for creating space for Luka in the playoffs. On the other hand, Dinwiddie made several great drives to the rim and hit a couple of threes, a part of his game many Mavs fans were worried about. Of course, it was one game, but their performances certainly gave Mavs fans a reason for optimism.
Second, the Mavs only took eight free throws, one in the second half. Taking so few free throws is a cause of frustration at the moment, but the chances of that happening in a playoff series is low. On average, NBA playoff games have more fouls than during regular-season games. For instance, Luka Doncic has averaged 7.5 free throw attempts per game in his career in the regular season. That number jumps to 8.8 in the playoffs. So, while only taking eight free throws versus the Jazz hurt their chances to win the game (the Jazz were 18/22), that is unlikely to happen in the playoffs.
Lastly, the Mavericks play the Jazz two more times in the regular season. If the Mavs can win enough to keep pace with the Jazz, they still can overtake the Jazz. This is important because the Mavs have not won a game in Utah since the 2015-16 season, and if the Mavs stay the 5th seed, the Jazz will have home-court advantage. With 22 games left this season, the Mavs need to either get the 4th seed or, perhaps, fall to 6th and play the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have had a great season, but the Mavs likely have a better chance of winning a series without home-court by playing the Grizzlies. The Mavs hold their destiny in their own hands to a certain extent. Beating the Jazz two more times this season will go a long way to helping the goal of getting the 4th seed.
Despite a disappointing loss, there is still reason to be optimistic. Dinwiddie and Bertans look like they are becoming integral bench pieces, the Mavs are unlikely to take only eight free throws in a playoff game, and there is still time for the Mavs to get the 4th seed. Do you think the Mavs will get the 4th seed, stay in the 5th, or fall to 6th?