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The Mavericks have not quit on their season, but it might not matter

Dallas still has some fight left, but the runway is almost up

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When the Mavericks dropped two straight to the very bad Hornets, the team was declared dead. Falling to 11th in the standings, behind teams the Mavericks didn’t even have the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over, it felt dead. I mean, if the Mavericks can’t beat the Hornets once in two tries, what’s the point, right?

I even wrote about it. About how this season is historically awful for the Mavericks. Basically the collective media, both local and national, finally seemed fed up with this team, its roster and its head coach. You look at the results since those Hornets losses, 1-3, with three straight losses, and it doesn’t exactly change that narrative. The season is over.

Yet. I keep coming back to that word. Yet. While the Mavericks are still losing like a team that might have given up on its season after two embarrassing losses, the team is doing nothing but. Yes, the same flaws are present. Yes, the team can’t guard or rebound to save its life, but also, it’s clear watching in real time this team still believes, still desperately wants its season to continue, and hasn’t punted to thoughts about summer vacations just yet. The Mavericks have lost three straight, but the average margin in each loss was 5.7 points per game. That’s two shots.

It doesn’t change the result and it doesn’t mean the Mavericks should get kudos for any perceived moral victories. It just means when the Mavericks had every right to just fold up their season and give up on any of these remaining games, they didn’t. That’s...something. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. Asking professional athletes who get paid millions to do the bare minimum and show up every night isn’t the wildest of praise, but it’s better than the alternative.

Perhaps the best example of this is Luka Doncic’s defensive effort on Sunday. Doncic has taken a beating in the public eye during the Mavericks slide, the mascot of the Mavericks woefully and embarrassing defensive efforts. Take to Twitter and it’s not that hard to find a viral moment of Doncic’s latest defensive breakdown. It’s not fair to Doncic that has to be the face of a bad defense that has a lot of players contributing to that problem, but so goes the life of the 200 million dollar player. What was neat on Sunday was that after the Mavericks defense got whooped again in the first half, Doncic perhaps played his best defense of the season down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The Atlanta Hawks repeatedly targeted Doncic, screening him onto Hawks star Trae Young, so Young could theoretically have an advantage. Yet (there’s that word again), Doncic held up.

Luka held up without a double, just straight-up guarding the other team’s best player. Atlanta shot under 45 percent for the second half, and only 33 percent in overtime, which feels like a miracle considering how awful Dallas’ defense has been. The Mavericks still lost, which feels like the subtitle to this Mavericks season, but it was at least something. The Mavericks season is circling the drain, but the last few games it hasn’t been because the team has mentally checked out for the season. Perhaps the fact that the Mavericks are trying but still losing is an even bigger indictment on the roster and coaching staff, but those are conversations to have a little bit later. Technically, the Mavericks are still alive in the play-in.

If they want to sneak in, as improbable as it would be, this level of effort has to continue. After three straight gut-wrenching losses with the season on the line, I guess we’ll see what the Mavericks are made of to close this season. Or perhaps we already know — a team with some fight left in it but not enough talent.