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Where the Mavericks have improved in the midst of mediocrity

There hasn’t been much to be proud of in Dallas lately, and yet the Mavericks have quietly improved in a few key spots.

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

And all the vampires walkin’ through the AAC

Move west down Nowitzki Way

And all the bad Mavs are standin’ in the shadows

And the good MFFLs are home with broken hearts

And I’m free, I’m free fallin’

Yeah, I’m free, free fallin’

When there is nothing left to say you sing your feelings. The Dallas Mavericks are trying their hardest to trip and stumble their way to the end of this season. They are banged up, seemingly devoid of chemistry, and grasping at a postseason opportunity in the middle of a mediocre West. Shakespeare wrote, “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” So what hopeful ballad can we MFFLs bellow in the midst of so much uncertainty?

Since the Mavericks announced their trade for Kyrie Irving on February 6 the team’s Offensive-rating of 118.4 ranks fourth, +3.4 prior to the deal. This mark puts the team just ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks, and behind the likes of the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers and...oh...Jalen Brunson’s New York Knicks. They also sport the third best true-shooting percentage in the league during that span.

The Mavericks have played the second most clutch minutes of any team this season, a staggering 190 minutes over 45 games. From the start of the season up to the Irving trade the team was shooting 67.3-percent from the free throw line, 29th in the league. All too often the team was coughing up late game losses by failing to connect on their free shots. But since the trade in 12 clutch games and 49 clutch minutes the Mavericks are attempting the same number of free throws but have improved to 85-percent from the line, 6th in the league. It hasn’t ultimately translated to a better win-percentage, but it’s an important distinction.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the team has improved from beyond the arc since early February. Pre-trade the Mavericks shot 36.1-percent from three, middle of the pack at best, and unacceptable for a team that has relied so heavily on the extra space Doncic provides to teammates. Since the trade that number has shot up, with the team second in the league in three-point percentage hitting 40.1-percent from deep.

These improvements haven’t translated to win streaks or a secure place in the standings. They are 5-7 in games Irving himself has played and 7-9 since the deal. All these glimmers of light are rooted in hope after all. But when it feels like the walls are caving in each time the team is slogging their way through a game it can be valuable to remember the small places they have improved.

The Mavericks have a lighter schedule to close the season, but still have critical games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors before a slew of Eastern Conference matchups. The return of Doncic and Irving is the most important data point for the Mavericks to have a chance at a playoff spot, or any hope of success in the postseason. Marc Stein reported Thursday afternoon that both players, as well as Tim Hardaway Jr. were full participants in practice. So perhaps this is a reset button on all the struggles of late.

Because when those two are on the floor and healthy, anything is possible. In these late season games that feel closer to a playoff atmosphere the game will slow down and the floor will shrink. To know the team has improved from three and the line could make all the difference. And it doesn’t hurt to have two of the best players on the floor on any given night.