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There’s only one question left for these Dallas Mavericks — why not them?

The Mavericks are past the fun, plucky underdog story.

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There was a moment in the third quarter, after the Mavericks had already amassed a staggering 42 point lead in Game 7 on the road against the Suns, where Devin Booker thought he had a prime mismatch against Mavericks backup sharpshooter Davis Bertans.

Booker attacked Bertans, and then something weird happened — he didn’t score. In fact Booker attacked two players the Suns have tried to target the whole series, as Luka Doncic also came in to help. Bertans even committed the cardinal sin on defense by getting turned around by Booker. Even with all of that, Bertans still guarded well, didn’t concede much ground, and forced Booker into one of the worst turnovers you’ll ever see an All-Star player make in a high-leverage game.

As I watched more plays similar to this one in the Mavericks 123-90 thumping of the Suns in Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 2011, I realized that the Mavericks are a legitimate title contender. As I wrote after the Mavericks beat the Suns in Game 4, the Mavericks are no longer underdogs, and this Game 7 felt like the punctuation mark at the end of that thought.

We’re no longer in the “happy to be here” territory — the Mavericks can win the NBA title. Right now! Not in a couple seasons, not after another big offseason move. This season, in about a month, in the year of 2022.

Sometimes things just feel different. There are reasons why, of course, and I’ll try to write about that more before the Mavericks face the Warriors. But sometimes there’s just something you can’t shake, like a shift in the tides. Bertans making a defensive stop is reminiscent of the 2011 team when little used backup Brian Cardinal became a hero for his timely shots and defensive plays in the sparse minutes he had. On the other end of the bracket we’re seeing similar things, with Celtics young rotation player Grant Williams putting up huge numbers to support their star in Jayson Tatum. Every team in the playoffs at this point has a stud — the margins are usually won by what these teams can squeeze out of the players around that stud. These playoffs are showing that these Mavericks are different from what we’ve seen in the past Doncic eras and it’s just just a newfound defensive edge.

Think about for a moment what you would consider to happen for the Mavericks to make a deep playoff run sometime in March or early April. The shared consensus was the Mavericks were dangerous but they’d need Doncic to play at his now somewhat normal superhuman level while Mavericks role players would have to cash in on the open shots Doncic’s attention and playmaking would provide. Now consider this:

  • The Mavericks beat the Phoenix suns four out of five teams to erase an 0-2 deficit and win the series. In Games 3-6, the Mavericks tied the series with three wins in four games while Doncic shot 41.4 percent from the floor and 21.2 percent from three. Hardly superhuman.
  • In Game 7, Doncic was superhuman, but his spot up shooting role players were decidedly not — Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Davis Bertans combined to go 3-of-11 from three. Only three Mavericks scored in double figures and the Mavericks won by 33 on the road in a Game 7. But those three in double figures were Doncic’s 35, Dinwiddie’s 30, and Jalen Brunson’s 24. Those three alone almost outscored the entire Suns team.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie scored 30 points in Game 7. In Games 1-5, he scored 35 points combined. He shot 11-of-15 from the floor in Game 7. He shot 11-of-38 in Games 1-5.

The Mavericks just win, doing whatever it takes to get there. Whether it’s defensive adjustments to cool down the hot midrange scoring, a role player randomly popping off. Dallas has solved problems this playoff series like playing a game of whack-a-mole, popping targets whenever they pop up. Dinwiddie’s scoring goes quiet, so Finney-Smith makes eight three pointers. Chris Paul goes supernova in Game 2, so Bullock hounds him with an almost full-court press to fluster him. Doncic and the offense stalls after the Suns stop hiding DeAndre Ayton on weakside three point shooters, so Doncic and Brunson spread out Ayton directly in the pick and roll and win 1-on-1 matchups in space to create an avalanche of three point attempts. Doncic can’t buy a three pointer all series, and goes 6-of-10 in Game 7. Again, an adjustment of some sort every time.

Moments like this don’t happen very often, which is hard to forget when you see how often “first time since 2011” you see plastered on every piece of Mavericks media during this playoff run. Despite that, it’s not hard to fall into the trap of looking ahead and seeing what’s out there on the horizon. In just a few short moments after the game, I already saw fans debating online over whether the Mavericks should try to kick the Suns while they’re down and acquire Ayton this summer. There’s been lots of talk about Brunson’s looming new contract, or talk about the age of some of the Mavericks role players and whether or not Dallas will need a new core around Doncic soon. Here’s the thing: none of that matters.

The Mavericks need 16 wins to finish as NBA champion. They have eight right now, halfway threre. None of those questions or offseason hypotheticals have any say in the enjoyment you can find from this team, as presently assembled, right now. Professional sports is a tough business for fans — only one group ends the season happy and there are no guarantees for next season despite the eternal optimism that springs from a training camp or preseason. Case in point, the Atlanta Hawks. They were the darling of the NBA less than a year ago, with a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals. With a young star in Trae Young and a rotation stocked with a nice combination of developed talent and veteran free agents, the Hawks looked like a team primed to take over the East. What happened this season? The Hawks struggled with injuries and regression, having to battle in the play-in tournament to only get lose in five games in the first round as the eighth seed. Point is, nothing is for certain. The Mavericks should be a contender for years to come, but sports is particularly cruel in this aspect. Instead of worrying about what can happen tomorrow, it’s time to appreciate what the Mavericks can do today. Which, as of now, is potentially win an NBA title.

Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.