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NBA Power Rankings Watch: the Mavericks are battling through injuries

The team has dipped of late, but are fighting for any sense of continuity.

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NBA: Orlando Magic at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Much like the Dallas Mavericks we’re playing a bit of catch up on the Power Rankings Watch. The team can’t seem to catch a break with injuries. And while that’s the nature of sports for all teams, all teams go through bouts of the injury bug, the Mavericks can’t find anything cohesive in their lineups.

This tells a big story for the Mavericks, though it doesn’t tell the whole story. This team doesn’t have the same talent as most of those contenders listed above. It often requires an otherworldly Luka Doncic, or an insane heater from one of the sharpshooters, for the Mavericks to be a threat to the top of the league.

Does this inform the team’s trade deadline? Or do the Mavericks quietly set a reset button and move the few assets they have to try and reload.


NBA

Rank: 14

Last week: 10

Luka Doncic scored 73 points, tied for the fourth highest-scoring game in NBA history, as the Mavs won in Atlanta on Friday. But that’s their only win in their last five games, as they continue to struggle against other good teams.

Three takeaways

Doncic ranked second in scoring last season, so it’s not like he couldn’t go off in the past. But he’s a little more potent this season because he’s shot better and more often from beyond the arc. His 37.5% from 3-point range is easily the best mark of his career and his 3-point rate (43.2% of his shots have come from deep) is his highest since his rookie season. He was 8-for-13 from 3-point range on Friday, while also shooting 17-for-20 inside the arc and 15-for-16 from the line. He had more 2-pointers (19-for-25) and more free throws (16-for-22) in his 60-point game against the Knicks in Dec. of 2022, but was just 2-for-6 from deep that night.

With losses to the Celtics, Suns and Kings (all at home) last week, the Mavs are 10-17 in games played between the 18 teams that are currently over .500, and they have the worst record (5-12) in games played between the top eight teams in the West, having allowed 123 points per 100 possessions over those 17 games.

Defense remains the theme, as this 1-4 stretch has been the Mavs’ worst five-game stretch of defense this season (126.4 allowed per 100). They’ve seen improvement in both opponent free throw rate and opponent turnover rate from last season, but their opponents have averaged 27.2 free throw attempts and just 10.8 turnovers over these last five games.

The Mavs’ schedule remains difficult (though a little East-heavy) through the next two weeks. One of their three 2024 wins over a winning team was against the Wolves on Jan. 7, when Doncic and Kyrie Irving (who’s missed the last three games) combined for only 69 points. The fourth and final meeting is in Minnesota on Wednesday.

ESPN

Rank: 13

Last week: 6

The struggles of forward Grant Williams — whom the Mavs gave a four-year, $53 million contract in a sign-and-trade deal — are a significant concern in Dallas, losers of three of four. After getting off to a sizzling start, Williams has shot 36.2% from the floor and 27.7% from 3-point range over the past two months, losing his starting job and dealing with ankle and knee injuries during that span. Williams, who has earned a reputation as a solid 3-and-D role player, hasn’t had a positive impact on the defensive end, either. Dallas has allowed 120.0 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor over the past two months, compared to 109.8 without him. — MacMahon

The Athletic

Rank: 15 (Tier 4: Play-in Team or Better)

Last week: 12

First-quarter grade: B+ | Ranked 10th

Second-quarter grade: B

The Mavs have regressed a little bit, but they’ve also had plenty of games without either Kyrie Irving or Luka Dončić, so it’s understandable we’d see a bit of a dip. This is still a very dangerous squad with two legitimate closers. Their role players have found a great groove, and Tim Hardaway Jr. seems unstoppable off the bench. They could really use a defensive stopper on the perimeter.

Preseason prediction update: Kyrie plays at least 70 games for the first time since 2016-17.

Kyrie has played in 27 of their 43 games so far, so he’s going to have to play 43 times in their remaining 39 games to reach this prediction. Looks unlikely.

Bleacher Report

Rank: 15

Last week: 14

Injuries certainly deserve a lot of the blame for another underwhelming regular season, but they don’t absolve the team entirely.

After closing out their week with a blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Dallas Mavericks have now lost three straight and five of their last seven. After the slide, they’re firmly in the West’s play-in range. And they’re barely even winning Luka Dončić’s minutes.

When he’s on the floor, the Mavs are plus-0.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark that’s nowhere near the individual net ratings of some contenders’ best players.

Again, it may be as simple as getting healthy. That number skyrockets to plus-12.2 when Luka is on the floor with Dante Exum. But we’re now at a season and a half of mediocrity since Dallas made the conference finals with Jalen Brunson in 2022. Much more might require some drastic adjustments.