Middling at best by most accounts, Dallas is doing some damage in the Western Conference. Having won five straight before their loss to the Charlotte Bobcats for the first time since 2012, the Mavs are locked in a battle with the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns for the conference's sixth seed.
Contending for sixth place isn't reason enough to brand oneself with championship-trophy tattoos, but the Mavs are winning, and winning us over in the process.
Unlike the East, the West is no joke. Pedestrian teams are destroyed. Championship hopefuls dominate the top five, leaving various dark horses to grind out remaining slots.
Dark horses like the Mavs.
Expectations weren't high leading into this season, and they still won't be winning a title this year, but on the back of an obnoxiously efficient, points-producing offense, rejuvenated Nowitzki and ready and willing supporting cast, the rolling Mavs find themselves with plenty to play for.
This Offense Isn't Good—It's Fantastic
Offenses don't come much more brilliantly powerful outside Dallas.
The Mavs rank fourth in offensive efficiency, according to NBA.com/Stats (subscription required), and they've been even better over the last 10 games. And they've been even better than that during their five-game winning streak:
I feel you. Graphs are more interesting to look at when the lines are squiggly and they resemble a three-year-old's attempt to explain string theory. But for the Mavs, this boring, outright mundane upward trend is incredible.
Their offense is already so ridiculous that it shouldn't be any better. That they posted a 120.6 offensive rating during their winning streak is absurd. The closest team to them was the Los Angeles Clippers, who sit with a quaint 114.7 through their last five.
Dallas' shooting has been particularly fiery. It already converts three-pointers at the fifth-highest clip in the league (37.8 percent), but drilled an astounding 40.4 percent from behind the rainbow during those five games.
Part of what also makes Dallas' offensive accolades so special is its ability to remain potent without the implementation of fast-paced, run-run-run-run tactics. The Mavs rank 15th in pace and 19th in fast-break points, per Team Rankings, yet they're still topping 100 points on the regular.
Good luck out-producing that efficient an offense.
No, seriously, good luck. The Mavs are outscored opponents by an average of 17.4 points per 100 possessions before their loss to Charlotte.
That Dirk Nowitzki Guy
Old, enfeebled, shaggy-haired veterans never looked so young and unstoppable.
Most of Nowitzki's season has been spent flipping Father Time the ol' bird right before putting him in a playful, yet effectively sedative, headlock. Nothing has changed of late—except that Nowitzki looks even younger and more unstoppable, kind of like he's rediscovered a fountain of youth brimming with 24-hour energy.
Look at how the 25—er, I mean 35-year-old has performed in recent weeks:
|Dirk Gone Wild|
Is this even legal? Or possible?
Somehow, Dirk is within striking distance of becoming the second (qualified) player in NBA history to register a 50/40/90 season after his 35th birthday (Steve Nash)—more absurdity.
Perhaps Nowitzki never received the memo, but players are supposed to regress with age, not spit in the face of conventional wisdom while draining aesthetically pleasing three-pointers over frustrated defenders.
"Don't ever underestimate greatness," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, via ESPN Dallas' Jean-Jacques Taylor.
Those still doubting whether the Mavs can do any damage come playoff time need to remember that Nowitzki ranks seventh in player efficiency rating (24.5), 10th in win shares (seven) and first in delivering trenchant, age-defying butt-kickings.
There's something pleasantly cohesive about Dallas' supporting cast.
Over the course of its winning streak, everyone from Monta Ellis to Jose Calderon to Brandan Wright stepped up—seriously.
See for yourself:
|Fun for Everyone|
|Player||MPG||PTS||FG%||3P%||REB||AST||STL||Off. Rtg.||Net Rtg.|
Depth hasn't been a strong suit for the Mavericks. Their bench ranks 10th in scoring, but that's down from first last season. Injuries certainly haven't helped, what with Devin Harris and Wright missing serious time.
Finding additional contributors hasn't been an issue lately, though. Starters are playing great basketball, and the reserves are starting to show signs of offensive life.
Ellis continues to be an efficient No. 2 as well. The days of caroming superfluous mid-range shot attempts off the rim are over. They've been replaced by a selfless rim-attacker who is conscious of his shot selection.
But the buck hasn't stopped there.
Carter, Calderon, Wright, Harris, Dalembert, Marion—everyone, they've all been pitching in, doing their part, and more, making it so the Mavs aren't the mediocre outfit they were projected to be.
Looking for Real
Don't underestimate these Mavs—these spunky, unguardable Mavs. They're here, and they're for real.
Serious concerns exist for sure. The Mavs are a terrible defensive team. They rank 23rd in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to bury 46.2 percent of their shots, the league's sixth-worst mark. A 12-14 record against teams above .500 is unnerving as well.
Deep playoff runs are founded upon the ability to score and defend. The Mavs cannot do both—not consistently. But they do one (score) good enough to remind us they're still here, still fighting, still part of a swift and unforgiving Western Conference playoff picture.
"I always said I want to play as long as it's fun," Nowitzki explained to The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn.
What the Mavs are doing is fun—extremely fun, because it's unexpected. Dallas is better than projected, playing a brand of basketball many doubted it could play, hanging tough in a conference reserved for powerhouses.
"It shows you gotta enjoy this ride, you gotta enjoy every moment of it," Nowitzki added, "because sooner or later it's going to be over and you're going to be forgotten."
Don't forget these Mavs or the way they're playing. They're here, shooting and scoring, rolling and winning, surprising and legitimate.