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Grading the Mavericks: the Mavericks need to stop underestimating weaker opponents

One thing about the Mavericks is true: they will be competitive every night

New Orleans Pelicans v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

The Mavericks finished this week 3-2 and now have a 24-17 record. That keeps them in 6th place in the Western Conference. They beat Minnesota and New York, lost to a shorthanded Memphis team, and split their two-game series with the Pelicans. Over the past week, Luka Doncic, Dereck Lively, Derrick Jones Jr., Maxi Kleber, and Dante Exum have all missed time.

Grade: B-

The Mavericks are a strange team. They picked up their best win of the season without Luka Doncic at home against the Timberwolves, then followed that up with a loss to the Grizzlies without Ja Morant or Jaren Jackson Jr. Some nights the team looks unbeatable, and some nights they look like the 2012 Charlotte Bobcats. The effort is wildly inconsistent and this week exemplified that to the highest degree.

You have to credit the team for the wins they came up with. They managed to go 5-2 on this homestand with three high-quality victories. Despite the highs, you cannot look at this team without recognizing how low they can go. Last week’s grades were about consistency through lineup changes, and this week they flipped the script and rolled the dice on what team they wanted to be each night.

Straight A’s: Playing up to competition

The wins against Minnesota, New York, and New Orleans were great. Not in an “oh, that was a great win” way, but legitimately great. They were shorthanded in all three games and played above their health level. They beat a full healthy, and very large, Timberwolves team without Dereck Lively. The Knicks had won five in a row before Dallas played them. The Pelicans had rested all of their guys in the first game of the series before Dallas beat their healthy lineup on Monday afternoon. Both the Knicks and Pelicans win featured Luka Donic in street clothes. There is something about playing a good team that brings the best out of the Mavericks. Their ability to play up should not be taken for granted, and will certainly be a factor down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Currently Failing: Playing down to inferior opponents

On the flip side, Dallas underestimates opponents time and again and find themselves losing games they should not. It’s a stark juxtaposition, but it is not surprising. It has been this way seemingly since Luka Doncic was drafted, and it just has to change. The effort starts at the top, and when head coach Jason Kidd makes comments like this, it begs the question of who is rallying the troops:

The coach has to take credit for the effort. It is their job to prepare the team, and throwing your players under the bus for something you are responsible for is nothing short of malpractice. For years it seems like Dallas has said they need to be better about playing down to competition, but nothing has changed. It is a good thing that there will only be good opponents in the postseason.

Extra Credit: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Over his last three games, Hardaway Jr. is averaging over 32 points on 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc (12 attempts per game). Not only has Hardaway Jr. looked unconscious for stretches, but he has been the entire offense during times of drought. He is important to this team in ways that get overshadowed by his poor shooting nights and his defensive woes. Hardaway Jr. is an elite shot taker and shot maker and one of the few guys in the NBA that meets that criteria. As trade talks heat up, if Dallas gets rid of him in any deal besides one that includes a third star, it would be a mistake. He can win games himself and resurrect the Mavericks’ offense during times no one else can. There is a reason that the Mavericks have won at over a 57 percent clip with him on the floor since 2019-20, his first full season in Dallas.