The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2013-14 NBA regular season. Dallas is currently 13-10 through 23 games, with a strong home record of 9-2 and a scoring offense that has topped 100 points 15 times.
If you are skeptical about their chances, you shouldn't be. The Mavericks are going to make the playoffs this year, and it's only a matter of time before this becomes common knowledge.
Here are five reasons why.
A common misconception about the Western Conference is that it's filled with great teams from top to bottom. Admittedly, there are roughly six squads that have a legitimate chance at making it to the NBA Finals.
That doesn't mean there are six established elite teams, but the six do exist.
Beyond that, however, the final two postseason spots will be given to good teams that will see their greatest hype in the form of the phrase, "They'd be great in the Eastern Conference."
The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are proven commodities that have represented the Western Conference in the past two NBA Finals. The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers have star-studded rosters, but haven't yet proved capable of making the leap.
Beyond that is a crop of teams that are marred with uncertainty. The 13-8 Denver Nuggets are a force, but the 12-9 Phoenix Suns are overachieving and the 11-11 Minnesota Timberwolves haven't won more than 35 games since 2005.
What this all adds up to is two postseason spots that are so far from locked up that it's unfair to even suggest there's a favorite. Denver may be the hot choice due to its dominance at home, but if there's one team that can be trusted, it's the 13-10 Dallas Mavericks..
You shouldn't have too much of an issue choosing forward Dirk Nowitzki and head coach Rick Carlisle over the Grizzlies, Lakers, Pelicans, Suns and Timberwolves.
Dallas isn't a borderline team like the others listed, but instead a proven commodity. There's a superstar in Dirk, a star in guard Monta Ellis and a Hall of Fame-caliber head coach in Carlisle.
Arguably the most underreported aspect of the 2012-13 NBA regular season was the impact that Dirk Nowitzki had on the Dallas Mavericks. After battling a number of injuries, Dirk returned to his superstar ways once he finally became healthy.
While Nowitzki was sidelined, the Mavericks compiled a record of 12-15. They closed out the year by going 29-26 with Dirk in the lineup, but that's not the entire story.
Dallas was 13-23 entering a Jan. 10, 2013 road game against the Sacramento Kings. Nowitzki wasn't at his best, but he posted 17 points and nine rebounds as the Mavericks took a 117-112 overtime victory.
From there, the Mavericks closed out the season by going 28-18 in the final 46 games.
That's a win percentage of .609, which is a better mark than three separate playoff teams posted at season's end in the Western Conference. Thus far in 2013-14, Dallas has a win percentage of .565. That's not as stellar, but with a new cast of players, it's impressive.
Having Nowitzki in the lineup for an entire year should be enough to get the team back in the postseason. After all, the team made the playoffs every season from 2001 to 2012 with a healthy Dirk on the floor.
Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo had fine seasons for the Mavericks in 2012-13. Mayo averaged 15.3 points and a career-high 4.4 assists on 40.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while Collison put up 12.0 points and 5.1 assists per game.
In the offseason, the Mavs set out to improve their backcourt and did just that, bringing in guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.
At point guard, Calderon has ranked in the top five in the NBA in assists per 48 minutes in every season but one since 2006-07. The one year that he failed to do so was 2008-09, when he was eighth.
If you're more of a per-game-type evaluator, Calderon has averaged at least 7.0 dimes in all but one year since 2007-08.
Ellis, meanwhile, averaged 21.2 points on 47.2 percent shooting from the field from 2006 to 2011. He never quite fit in with the Milwaukee Bucks, but managed to average 6.0 assists during his 103 games with the Wisconsin-based team following a trade from Golden State in 2012.
Dallas' new shooting guard is a better facilitator and scorer than both the previous point guard and shooting guard were collectively. It's no coincidence Dallas is ninth in assists per game this year.
There will be some bumps in the road, and Calderon's still looking to find his role within the offense. As Calderon struggles, however, he's still shooting 46.0 percent from three-point range.
He's a career 40.4 percent shooter from distance, for those questioning his sustainability.
Dallas has a superstar down low and two genuine forces along the perimeter. That's the beginning of a postseason push in itself.
What more do I have to say?
During his 12-year career as a head coach in the NBA, Carlisle has won 533 regular-season games on a winning percentage of .586. He owns an NBA championship, three conference finals appearances and has compiled just one losing season.
More applicably, Carlisle has missed the postseason just twice. He's never done it twice in a row.
Carlisle may not have a conventional Big Three or a defensive superstar down low. There likely won't be any players on this current roster who will be taking home postseason awards, but the coach has a history of getting the most out of his players.
If there's one thing that we know about Carlisle, however, it's that he makes things work. This season will be no exception.
The most important factor of all is this: Just 23 games into a tenure with a revamped cast, the Dallas Mavericks are already looking good.
Three of the Mavericks' full-time starters weren't with the team during the 2012-13 regular season. That trio consists of point guard Jose Calderon, shooting guard Monta Ellis and center Samuel Dalembert.
Dallas' top two facilitators, No. 2 scorer and top rim protector have yet to truly find their comfort zone. Even still, the Mavericks are 13-10.
Other new additions include backup big man DeJuan Blair and Dallas' top two reserve point guards in Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel. Another new-but-familiar face is Devin Harris, who will return to game action after Christmas, per Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News.
Harris played with Dallas from 2004 to 2008.
With future Hall of Famers at head coach and power forward, chemistry is certain to improve. That's a scary thought considering the Mavericks are No. 7 in points per game, No. 9 in assists per contest and No. 8 in team field-goal percentage.
The Mavericks are already playing at a postseason-caliber level, and it's only going to get better. That's why Dallas is going to make the playoffs in 2013-14.