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NBA Power Rankings Watch: the Mavericks are battling adversity and themselves

They had a tough December, but injuries and inconsistencies are mounting

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

All things considered the Dallas Mavericks have done well to get to this point. They had a challenging stretch of opponents while facing their toughest bout of the injury bug. They went .500 in the 12-game absence of Kyrie Irving while other starters also missed time.

One positive this season different from last has been their ability to beat up on bad teams (see: two wins this week against the Portland Trail Blazers). But they still dropped games against an injured Cleveland Cavaliers team, and were run off the floor by the lowly Utah Jazz. That combined with still bad defense has them dropping this week in the power rankings.


ESPN

Rank: 10

Last week: 9

Kyrie Irving returned in Monday’s loss to the Jazz after missing the previous 12 games because of right heel soreness. The Mavs hope getting Irving back will ease the burden on Luka Doncic, who averaged 39.5 minutes in December and has been dealing with left quad soreness. Doncic scored 37.5 points per game in December, a month in which he had four triple-doubles and a 50-point, 15-assist performance. But he opened the new year with an uncharacteristically off night, scoring 19 points on 6-of-20 shooting in a loss to Utah, just the third time this season he didn’t score at least 20. — MacMahon

NBA

Rank: 15

Last week: 9

Having lost six of their last nine games, the Mavs have slipped out of the top six in the Western Conference. It’s been a relatively tough stretch of schedule, but two of their last three losses have come to the Cavs (who were without three starters) and Jazz.

Three takeaways

The Mavs got Kyrie Irving back from a 12-game absence (over which they were 6-6) on Monday, but their offense did not get a boost. They registered their worst offensive performance of the season, scoring just 90 points on 103 possessions (including 15 on their final 35) in Utah. The Mavs ranked thirdoffensively (119.3 points scored per 100) through Dec. 12 (two games into Irving’s absence), but have had the league’s sixth-worst offense (112.2 per 100) since then.

Ten different Mavs have started at least one game over the last two weeks, though there are five — Irving (one), Luka Doncic (six), Dante Exum (seven), Derrick Jones Jr. (eight) and Dereck Lively II (five) — who’ve started every game for which they’ve been available over that stretch. That was the starting five on Monday, but Exum was lost to a heel contusion in the first quarter and Jaden Hardy (the only Mav who shot well) started the third. Nine Mavs have played at least 200 minutes alongside Doncic, and the best on-court numbers belong to the Doncic-Exum and Doncic-Lively combos.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is tied (with a former teammate) for the league lead with 19 charges drawn and he’s mostly come off the bench, so he’s mostly defended against other reserves. But the Mavs have been at their worst defensively (allowing 119.1 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor. The Mavs blew a 20-point lead against the Cavs on Wednesday and a couple of critical Cleveland layups came with what looked like mistakes on Hardaway’s part, one failure to rotate and another failure to switch (or at least hedge) a back-screen.

The Mavs’ loss in Minnesota on Thursday was the end of their only stretch of five games in seven days, while their loss in Utah on Monday was the end of a stretch where they played seven of 10 on the road. They now begin their longest homestand of the season (seven games over 13 days) and while they still have a better record on the road (11-8) than they do at home (8-7), they’ve been much more efficient offensivelyat American Airlines Center.

The Athletic

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

Last week: 13

New Year’s Resolution: Heal the heel.

We’ve missed Kyrie Irving on the court for a lot of this season, and I’m eager to see him back at full strength. I really want to see how this pairing of Kyrie and Luka Dončić can grow together. The Mavs’ offense is already spectacular, but it can be better and more balanced too. Irving adding another threat with the game on the line could be special for Dallas.

Why are they ranked here? Should not have lost to that Cavs team nor the Jazz.

Bleacher Report

Rank: 12

Last week: 12

Kyrie Irving’s first game back from injury went totally haywire. The Dallas Mavericks suffered a 37-point blowout at the hands of the sub-.500 Utah Jazz, and a video clip of Luka Dončić ignoring a wide-open Kyrie went viral.

Kyrie has given little to no reason to read too much into moments like those, though. Since he joined the Mavericks last season, he’s never complained about his role on the offense or looked disengaged while playing.

And he quickly got back on track after his 14 points on 14 shots against Utah. In Wednesday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Kyrie had 29 points on 19 shots, five assists and two steals.

And for the entire season, in spite of occasional smirk-inducing clips like the one above, Dallas is plus-4.3 points per 100 possessions when Irving and Dončić share the floor.