If the W/L% At every position in the West remained the same, the Dallas Mavericks would only need to win 36 total games1 to slide into the 8th spot. That amounts to a 27-25 record for the rest of the season. The Mavericks, with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, and Andrew Bogut2 have a good chance to hit that goal.
There’s a good chance that 33% of the people that see this headline posted will just internally scream, not read it, and maybe respond negatively on Twitter or Facebook. That faction belongs to #TeamTank3 who are very upset with the Front Office and quite loud on social media. Another 33% will get excited at the prospects of making the playoffs for what could potentially be Dirk’s last year. The last 33% forgot the Mavericks were even playing because all they can think about are Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot.4 However, the Mavericks have played 30 games, lost 21 of them and are (somehow) not out of it yet, but how?
If the Western Conference was a forest and the goal was to make it to the direct center then it would be almost impossible because of how dense that area has been. At the beginning of the season, there seemed to be no teams that could touch the very center of that forest. The Warriors, Clippers and Spurs were supposed to be the cream of the crop.5 The Rockets have snuck in there and now it seems that no team can touch the top 7 in the West.6 That leaves one playoff spot wide open and it’s anyone’s game, even the Mavericks.
After a 2-13 start teeming with injuries and bereft of hope, the Mavericks have won 6 of their last 12 games. Despite their recent successes,7 how are they possibly in a position to make the playoffs? First off, there were a few franchises that expected to be a little deeper in the forest than they currently sit and may be8 more disappointed in their starts than the Mavericks have been. That group of Sub .500 teams would be the outer rim of the forest and George of the Jungle9 would have a tough time swinging from tree to tree.
Last season the Blazers won 44 games, beat the maligned Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, paid Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Maurice Harkless, and C.J. McCollum an exorbitant amount of free agency money10, and now sit at a lowly 13-19 out of the playoff race with the 22nd ranked Net rating11 in the league (-3.4).12
There was quite the hype train surrounding the Timberwolves before the season. According to ESPN NBA writer Zach Lowe, Washington Post NBA writer Tim Bontemps made an actual bet with him that the Timberwolves would win 50 games this season.14 but at the start of the year, there was a ton to be excited about. Karl-Anthony Towns was coming off of a statistical rookie season that only Hall of Famers (and Marques Johnson) have ever touched. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine were coming off a 20 point per game season and a revival of the dunk contest, respectively. They drafted Kris Dunn 5th overall to be the complete point guard to tie it all together and Thom Thibadeau was hired by the T-Wolves to be the final piece of the puzzle.
They don’t have much in the sense of top tier talent but the Nuggets are stocked full of solid NBA players and Nikola Jokic’s silver medal winning summer in the Olympics had fans hopeful. Now after a strange start with even weirder lineups, the Nuggets are 12-18 and have more questions than they had at the beginning of the season. Can Emmanuel Mudiay be a starting NBA point guard? What do you do with Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic since you can’t play them together? And now what do you do with Danilo Gallinari if he opts out of his player option after this season? Since Dec 5th the Nuggets have been playing .500 basketball but they still have a negative net rating over that period of time (5th Offensive Rating, 28th Defensive Rating…).
New Orleans Pelicans
The only reason to believe in the Pels playoff hopes before the season was to blindly stare and salivate over Anthony Davis’ box scores.15 After starting the season 2-10, Jrue Holiday returned and the Pels went on a four-game winning streak, everyone thought the Pelicans were back and now they’re evened out to an 11-21 record with no obvious way of improvement.
Somehow it’s easy to both underestimate and overestimate the Kings at the exact same time. On one hand, the organization has been a mess. They haven’t won 40 games in 10 years and have been coached16 by seven different men during that time. On the other hand… DeMarcus Cousins’ stat lines could be observed with the same vigor as Anthony Davis’. Somehow, despite all of the Rudy Gay disgruntlement, Boogie media encounters, and whatever happened in New York that one night, the Kings are sitting in the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Yeah, if the season ended today the Kings would be in the playoffs.
The Blazers, Wolves, Nugs, Pels, and Kings have been disappointing but that’s not the whole reason the Mavericks are still (somehow) in playoff contention. This season, the Western Conference is so top heavy that the middle class has been stretched so far that there’s only a 4 game difference between the 8th seed and the 15th.
Looking forward, 56% of the Mavs remaining games (29/52) are against sub .500 teams.17 In his first game back since November 25th Dirk Nowitzki scored 17 points in just 14:39 minutes.18 J.J. Barea is out again with an Achilles19 but flirted with coming back20 after returning from missing 17 games with a calf injury. Andrew Bogut was supposed to miss two weeks with a knee injury but that estimate would have had him back Dec 19th against the Nuggets, and he still hasn’t played. If the Mavericks can get 40 games out of Dirk, Barea, and Bogut that 27-25 record they need seems a lot more doable.21 Sorry Team Tankers, the Mavs aren’t out of the woods yet.
- 9 down, 27 to go
- Ifs are huge when you are 9-21
- Hey Taimon!
- Understandable…carry on, see you guys in February
- Pun intended I guess, but who grows stuff in a forest?
- Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Jazz
- Since .500 basketball is considered a success for this team now… man, have the tables turned
- Sometimes maybes are bigger than IFs
- Screw Tarzan
- Just about $350mil over the next 5 season
- Different between Offensive Rating & Defensive Rating
- That was the longest saddest run-on sentence ever written about the 2016-17 Blazers
- Bontemps thought they would win 50 games. It seems insane now because the Wolves would have to win 41 of their remaining 53 games13Which is a .773 record that would amount to a 63 win season
- And who hasn’t done that on a drunken Tuesday night? Such….big nuuumberrsss…
- Officially, not including interim coaches
- Suns 4, Lakers 3, Pels 3, Timberwolves 3, Heat 2, 76ers 2, Nets 2, Wizards 2, Blazers 2, Nuggets 2, Pistons 1, Kings 1, Bulls 1, Magic 1
- Sidenote: The Mavericks strategy of playing Dirk at 5 against DeAndre Jordan is fascinating. They are not afraid of defending him at all (which they shouldn’t be).
- Can we get an Achilles specialist in here?!?! Homer?!? ANYONE?!?!?
- 2 GMs, 12pts, 4reb, 8ast in 22min
- Doesn’t it?
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