NBA Predictions: Why the Dallas Mavericks Are a Dark-Horse Contender

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NBA Predictions: Why the Dallas Mavericks Are a Dark-Horse Contender
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks are capable of contending for the title this season.

There's a team in the NBA outside of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers that is capable of winning this year's title.

It sounds crazy, right? It's not. They shouldn't be favored, but the Dallas Mavericks are a dark-horse contender for the NBA championship.

Despite whiffing on both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams in free agency, the Mavericks have managed to assemble an intriguing group of players to surround star forward Dirk Nowitzki.

The Mavericks signed guard O.J. Mayo, center Chris Kaman and forward Elton Brand during free agency and even made a trade for former Indiana Pacers guard Darren Collison.

That's not at all a bad haul for a team that didn't seem to have a Plan B in the case that Howard and Williams went elsewhere.

Mayo never quite lived up to the promise that he showed in his rookie season, but he's got tons of talent, and a change of scenery could do him wonders.

Kaman is injury-prone, but if healthy, he's one of the few legitimate post scorers in the league (keep in mind, that's a big if). Brand is a big who can space the floor and play great defense, and Collison gives them a speedy creator who can break down defenders off the dribble.

Look at the Mavericks' roster again. Those four guys are being added to a core of Dirk, Shawn Marion, Delonte West and Vince Carter. That's a legitimately good team.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Former teammates Elton Brand and Chris Kaman will have a big offensive impact for the Mavericks.
Now, a common misconception is that Dallas can't play defense now that Tyson Chandler is a New York Knick.

But that's not true. The Mavericks' defense was actually pretty good last year. According to Hoopdata.com, the Mavericks allowed 99.7 points per 100 possessions last year, good for eighth in the league.

It was the Dallas offense that led to their playoff demise. Dallas was unable to match the Thunder bucket for bucket last season, mainly because Oklahoma City was able to sag off of offensive liabilities like Brendan Haywood and crowd the Dallas scorers.

That won't happen this season. Kaman and Brand are both capable of consistently hitting 12-16 footers. They can't be ignored on the offensive end. That frees up room for the rest of the team, particularly Dirk, who can score against anyone in the league.

Some will look at the Heat, Lakers and Thunder rosters and think that there's no way that Dallas has a shot. And it's true that on paper, they probably don't stack up. But at the risk of sounding cliché—basketball isn't played on paper.

After all, didn't the Mavericks prove two years ago that Dirk and role players can win a title? Why can't this team do the same?

They actually match up fairly well with both the Thunder and the Lakers, the Western Conference favorites.

As Mavs fans know, Dallas was a tough Kevin Durant bounce and a fourth-quarter collapse away from tying the Oklahoma City series up 2-2 instead of being swept. Their offense should be drastically improved this year, and they could give the Thunder some real issues.

As for the Lakers, Dallas has bodies to throw at Dwight and can put Marion on Kobe Bryant. Add that to the fact that nobody in the league can guard Dirk, and the Mavericks have a legitimate shot at beating anyone.

They wouldn't and shouldn't be favored in these matchups. The Lakers and the Thunder have too much talent for that. But would you really be totally shocked if they upset either of them? Of course not.

Their roster may not boast Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, but don't worry, Dallas fans—the Mavericks have a legitimate shot at the NBA title.

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