Power rankings speak more to the momentum of the present, rather than a projection of contention. But however you slice it, the Dallas Mavericks have been on a steady rise since opening night. Now 9-3, just half a game behind the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets for the best record in the league — it ultimately doesn’t matter how light the schedule has been. The Mavericks are winning the games in front of them.
They moved past a stinker in New Orleans Tuesday night with an emphatic road win against the lowly Washington Wizards Wednesday. Even though this month’s schedule hasn’t been as intimidating as it first looked they’ll wrap up the months with tests against the Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, before closing the month at home against the recently hot Houston Rockets. Grabbing wins against these opponents may indicate how serious we can take this team. So far, they’re doing this with out of this world shooting from both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Luka Doncic, among others. They’ll need to prove whether this is sustainable.
Last week: 5
Tim Hardaway Jr. has established himself as an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate, helping the Mavs to their No. 2-ranked offense. Hardaway is averaging 17.5 points per game, the most by any player who has come off the bench in at least half of his team’s games. And he’s doing it on both ends, ranking second in the league in charges drawn with eight, one fewer than former teammate Jalen Brunson. The Mavs wrap up their road trip against the Wizards on Wednesday night and the Bucks on Saturday. — Tim MacMahon
Last week: 6
The Mavs still haven’t played a very tough schedule. Only two of their games have come against teams — Denver and Orlando — that also have winning records as we enter Week 4. That said, they can only play who’s on their schedule, they’re tied for the second-best record in the league. Plus, they got three relatively comfortable wins (including one in Orlando) last week.
There were 22 seconds of clutch time in that Orlando win on Monday, with the Mavs on a game-clinching 9-0 run as the clock hit 5:00 in the fourth quarter. With that, they improved to 6-0 in clutch games and (with the Nuggets loss in Houston on Sunday) are now the only undefeated team in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
Luka Doncic had shot just 35% from 3-point range over the last three seasons, in part because he takes difficult 3s. But he’s 43-for-103 (42%) this season after going 10-for-18 in weekend wins over the Clippers and Pelicans. So, despite a significant drop in free throw rate, he’s registering the highest true shooting percentage of his career by a wide margin.
The Mavs had been outscored in the paint by double-digits in seven straight games before outscoring the Pels in the paint (54-48) in New Orleans. Their 30 fast break points on Sunday were tied for their most in a game since they drafted Doncic in 2018 and, according to Synergy tracking, they’ve averaged 23.4 transition points per game, eighth in the league and up from 17.7 (29th) last season.
Some of their shooting numbers might be unsustainable, but more running is a great thing for the Mavs, who’ve probably played a little too slow over the last several years. They’ve also done a better job of taking care of the ball; Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined for 16 assists and just three turnovers on Sunday.
Their win in New Orleans was the start of a four-game trip in which the opponents all rank in the bottom 10 defensively, and the Mavs remain in New Orleans for their third In-Season Tournament game, having split their first two.
Rank: 5 (Tier 2: Brink of Contention)
Last week: 8
The question: Is this version of Luka Dončić sustainable?
It shouldn’t be, but that’s simply because his hot start seems too good to sustain. His ridiculous numbers (32.6 points, 8.5 assists and 8.4 rebounds) are right in line with last season’s, but he’s making 41.7 percent of his 3-pointers and 62.7 percent of his 2-pointers. Dončić is actually sporting a 66.3 true shooting percentage, which doesn’t seem real. If he’s now this lethal of an outside shooter, I don’t know what opponents can do with him.