The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw NBA basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the Dallas Mavericks?
Place: Seventh in the West
Following a hot start that had the Dallas Mavericks in play for a surprising top-four seed, thanks to an MVP-caliber campaign from rising superstar Luka Doncic, Dallas was mired in .500 ball for a long stretch, mostly coinciding with a season-ending Achilles injury to starting center Dwight Powell. More versatile in space than any of Dallas’ other bigs, Powell’s absence makes a middling defense slightly worse.
With Doncic at the helm, the Mavs own a historic offense, scoring a league-high 115.8 points per 100 possessions. That figure has held steady without Powell’s screen-setting and rim-running, the reason Dallas still owns the third-best net rating in the Western Conference behind the Lakers and Clippers. Doncic is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in his second season, numbers no one else has posted at age 21 (and only Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook have matched at any age).
Who’s in and who’s out?
Powell is not the only member of Dallas’ depth chart sidelined by season-ending injury. Backup point guard Jalen Brunson underwent shoulder surgery just after the NBA suspended its season, and veteran wing Courtney Lee reportedly suffered a serious calf injury during the hiatus. Willie Cauley-Stein, signed as a replacement for Powell, opted out of the season restart after his partner gave birth to their first child.
The Mavericks signed defensive specialist Michael Kidd-Gilchrist following the former No. 2 overall pick’s buyout from the Charlotte Hornets in February, and they added Trey Burke over the break to bolster their ball-handling core behind Doncic. Neither is expected to make a significant impact come playoff time.
NBA Finals odds: +1800
Championship odds: +3000
The acquisition of Porzingis in January 2019, followed by a maximum contract last summer, cemented a longterm partnership with Doncic that the Mavericks hope will one day bear championship fruit. Once a game-changing unicorn whose skill at 7-foot-3 was almost unfathomable, Porzingis tore his left ACL in January 2018, just as he was flashing signs of becoming a paradigm-shifting rim force on both ends of the floor, and he was working his way back to full strength for much of his first season since returning.
Interrupted again by right knee soreness that cost him 10 games at the turn of the calendar, Porzingis was finally beginning to find his footing in the last 15 games before the break, averaging 25.2 points (on 47/36/83 shooting splits), 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.2 combined blocks and steals in 33.7 minutes per game. The Mavericks outscored opponents by 13.3 points per 100 possessions with Porzingis on the court in those games, much of those minutes with him at center. If he and Doncic even approach their ceiling together in Orlando, they form one of the NBA’s most dangerous tandems earlier than expected.
(All times Eastern)
July 31: Houston Rockets, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 2: Phoenix Suns, 9 p.m.
Aug. 4: Sacramento Kings, 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 6: L.A. Clippers, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 8: Milwaukee Bucks, 5 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 10: Utah Jazz, 3 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 11: Portland Trail Blazers, 5 p.m.
Aug. 13: Phoenix Suns, TBD
The Mavericks are four games back from the third-seeded Denver Nuggets and within two games of both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, who are tied with the West’s fifth-best record. A head-to-head win over Houston to start seeding play would bring them within a whisper of avoiding the second-seeded Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, and a victory against Utah later in the eight-game slate could put them back in play for the Nos. 4-5 matchup. Anything is better than the seventh seed.
Cutting two games in the standings off any regular-season lead in Orlando will be a tall task. For Dallas it is essential. It stands no chance of competing with the Clippers, as the Mavericks will too often be forced to counter Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with either Doncic or Tim Hardaway Jr. defensively.
Nobody else should instill first-round fear in the Mavs, who can call Doncic the best player in a series against Denver (if Porzingis neutralizes Nikola Jokic at all), Utah or OKC. Much like Houston, Dallas’ offense can also present second-round problems for the Lakers, if they were to meet there. But the dream of a premature conference finals appearance is more likely to end in a first-round Clippers nightmare.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: Seventh in the West
Finish: First-round loss
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