In the first week of play, the Western Conference is full of surprises and the Dallas Mavericks are in the upper echelon for the first time in years.
Breathe. In. Out. Woo-sah. It’s only 3 games. Nobody overreact. Stay grounded, but MAVS BASKETBALL IS BACK AND IT’S SO GOOOOOOODD!!!!!
Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus in on the first week of the season.
The Dallas Mavericks are 2-1 after a heart breaker of a loss on Sunday night to the Portland Trailblazers, falling 121-119. They won their first two games against a Wizards team who started 3 rookies and a Pelicans team who was without their own rookie, Zion Williamson, who was out due to a knee injury. The Mavs paced the Trailblazers until they took their first lead with 11 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. This is virtually the same Portland team that waved goodbye to Russell Westbrook before marching into the Western Conference Finals last year and the new-look Mavs had a dog fight with em to end their week.
Yes, it’s a tally in the loss column, BUT it was a reminder of how far the Mavs have come since last season. Over the offseason, the Mavs got better by adding the likes of Delon Wright and Seth Curry, but none better than finally getting Kristaps Porzingis in a Mavs uniform. However, they weren’t the only team to make changes this offseason to set the stage for a loaded and tough western conference.
Looking around the conference, there were really too many good teams to know who would make the playoffs and the first week has really thrown all predictions out the window. And the Mavs? They are right in the thick of and are showing the potential to be even better.
Last Year’ Standings vs Today
For starters, the top and the bottom of last year’s rankings have essentially traded places with the Warriors going 0-2 and the Suns going 2-1 over last week where the Suns beat Kawhi and the Clippers and the Warriors got run out of the gym by the rebuilding Thunder. Those two teams alone make it feel that this Western Conference is wide open and completely unpredictable.
Most expected Golden State to take a step back after losing KD to the Nets and Klay’s injury, but to look as lost and as inexperienced as they do is a surprise to many. And on that same token, seeing the Suns start to put it together after all these years in the lottery was something few outside of Phoenix city limits could have predicted. The only game Phoenix has lost was to the undefeated Nuggets and that was ASLO only by one point.
The only 3-0 team still remaining in the West are the Timberwolves who, like the Mavs, have played two easy games and were tested once by the red-hot Kyrie Irving and the NY Nets, where they came out on top in OT in a one-point game… Sound familiar?
Mavs in the Hunt
Going into Sunday night, the Mavs were one of 7 teams who remained undefeated after 2 games. This sounds like a minuscule thing, except that it means 23 other teams WEREN’T 2-0 AND the last time the Mavs were 2-0 was in 2004. It’s not everything, but it’s certainly not NOTHING. They lost by 1 to the Trailblazers and have the same record as 5 other teams in the conference. They are essentially in the middle third of the conference and basically in a 5-way tie for 4th in the West, but compared to last year’s basement-dwelling, that is a MAJOR improvement.
Additionally, the Mavs week of beating the teams that they should on paper and going toe-to-toe with the teams Vegas puts over them is the hallmark of a playoff team. As Jeff “Skin” Wade put it on his Mavs Podcast Numbers on the Boards, “MFFLs should start EXPECTING to win the hard games.” Whether or not they do isn’t the point, but knowing that the Mavs are good enough to compete with the best teams out there is a good thing and says that they can make some real noise this season.
Simultaneously, with teams like Phoenix and Golden State essentially swapping positions, the Mavs must also luck into other teams falling out of contention in order to have a chance at a post-season. One team that has surprisingly fell thus far is the 0-3 Kings. They have gone from 9th and barely missing the playoffs to now sitting squarely in the basement of the NBA and only missing Bagley due to injury.
If the Buddy Hield and Bojan Bogdanovich grumbles are systemic, they might not come back out of the lottery hunt even when Bagley returns. Teams like Sacramento, who one year prior looked to be poised to make a leap with their young talent, that fall out of contention early would open up a pathway for the Mavs to make a run.
Again, this may be over-inflating a single week in NBA, but it does illustrate the sort of parity that the Western Conference will experience this season. If undefeated teams are winning by one point and the next tier of teams are losing by one point, this season will all be decided by one shot or one extra rebound that gets the W.
If the dogfights of week 1 show the Dallas Mavericks growing into who they will be as this year goes along, they will get every chance to earn the playoff spot that Luka Doncic says they MUST make.
Featured Image: Associated Press - Tony Gutierrez Standings Image: ESPN/NBA Standings