The middle of the Western Conference has been an absolute bloodbath this year, and the Dallas Mavericks are right in the thick of it.
A single win can catapult a team two spots up the standings, while a loss can shoot them into the Play-In Tournament. Beating the Jazz last night pushed them to fifth, but the loss to the Pelicans sent the Mavs hurtling down to eighth.
That being said, Dallas is 3-7 in games that Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving played together. The offense has been spectacular, but the defense was atrocious. With the roulette standings of the West, there’s still a chance that the Mavericks land anywhere from fourth to tenth. Let’s take a look at how.
How can Dallas Mavericks finish in top 4 in the West?
The Mavs nabbing any of the top four spots in the West would be something bordering a miracle, though it is a possibility. The most vulnerable team in the top four right now is the free-falling Memphis Grizzlies, who have lost Ja Morant to a suspension and are missing other key contributors like Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke.
The Mavericks sneaking into the top four would require first require Memphis to collapse even more than it already has, even with the third easiest remaining schedule. A top-four spot would require a lot of things to go right.
In this scenario, Maxi Kleber and Doncic stay healthy and find their prime form. Tim Hardaway Jr. continues his hot streak of shooting, Irving finds another offensive gear, and Josh Green rediscovers his game. Finally, Christian Wood out of nowhere commits to defense and finds some hot shooting of his own.
I would predict that leaping to the top four would require the Mavericks to win at least 12 of their last 15 games, which isn’t impossible. However, they haven’t shown any signs of going on a winning streak since the blockbuster trade.
How can Dallas Mavericks finish 5th through 8th?
This is probably the most likely outcome for Dallas. It would require the defense to become slightly better than it is, and for them to find the ability to close out the clutch games that they’ve been losing.
Memphis dropping seeds is still a possibility in this scenario, but this would probably see the Suns and perhaps the Warriors overtaking them in the ranking, while Dallas remains about as good as they’ve shown up to this point. The Mavericks finally end up winning some of the close games, but still lose a few games that they should win.
Finishing the season winning seven to nine of their last 15 games is what I expect to happen if nothing changes about the Mavericks. If things go slightly better they grab the fifth seed. If things happen to go slightly worse, they finish in the Play-In Tournament. It’s not a terrible outcome considering how incomplete the roster is.
How Dallas Mavericks finish 9th through 12th
Let me preface this with this is probably not going to happen. The Lakers are not going to have LeBron James back for a while, the Pelicans won’t have Zion Williamson back for at least another two weeks, and the Mavericks are better than the Thunder.
Dallas ends up here if Doncic’s thigh injury ends up worse than expected and Kleber is reinjured. The German has missed two games to manage his repaired hamstring and is already being relied upon as a crucial part of the defense. If both of these guys miss multiple games, a very unsavory slide could begin.
In this scenario, the tailspin Green’s going through worsens, Irving and Hardaway’s shooting numbers take a dip, while the defense remains just as horrendous as it’s been since the trade.
Nonetheless, I don’t think Dallas ends up here. They would have to lose around 10 to 12 of their last 15 and with how easy the schedule is, it doesn’t seem likely. It’s also been reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski today that Doncic’s MRI scan came back negative, and that he’d be ready to go as soon as the discomfort fades.
The reality is that Dallas’ inability to separate in a wide-open Western Conference means that no matter where they end up, a playoff run is likely not in the cards for the Mavericks this year.