As the calendar turns from February to March, and the All-Star break is firmly in the rear view, the potential NBA playoffs are beginning to take shape. The Eastern Conference has been relegated to seemingly a two team race between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. However, the Western Conference can boast as many as 10 playoff-caliber teams. The young team, the Oklahoma City Thunder who are to reincorporate Russell Westbrook into their starting lineup. The defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs were one defensive rebound away from the fifth championship for Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, and seem poised to make another run.
Nevertheless, there is one team that no one wants to play come the postseason. That team is the Dallas Mavericks , currently sitting in the No. 8 seed by percentage points.
The Mavericks remain the only team to defeat the Heat in a playoff series during the big-three era of Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. After missing the playoffs in the 2012-13 season, the Mavericks are seven wins away from matching their win total from last year, and there are still 25 games left in this season. They are led by 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and Head Coach Rick Carlisle. However, if you think the Mavericks are only scary because of these two future Hall of Famers, think again.
The Mavericks boast the seventh best offense in the entire league. The Mavericks are one of two teams in the entire league with five players averaging double figures in scoring (the aforementioned Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, and Jose Calderon). After striking out on Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul in Free Agency during the last two offseasons, Mavericks General Manager Marc Cuban didn’t just stand pat. Cuban signed the aforementioned Calderon and Ellis to four and three- year contracts, respectively. How about the return on that investment for the savvy businessman? Calderon has been an immense upgrade over last year’s starting PG Darren Collison, as he’s averaged 11.6 points per game and 4.8 assists per game while giving the Mavericks the shooter and a facilitator that they didn’t have last year. All Ellis has done is to be arguably Nowitzki’s best sidekick since Jason Terry while averaging almost 19 PPG and almost 6 APG.
The struggles that the Mavericks have had defensively (ranked 24th in PPG game allowed) aren’t to be scoffed at. However, there’s not a team in the West that can score the way the Mavericks do. The Mavericks have also displayed a knack for upping the intensity of their defense when it’s mattered the most, as evidenced by their victory over the Pacers before the All-Star break where they held the Pacers to one of their lowest total points output (73) this season. The veteran Marion (the only remaining tie to the 2011 NBA Championship Team with Nowitzki) held ascending star Paul George to a 4-17 shooting performance as the Mavericks notched their most impressive win of the season thus far right before the All-Star break. These attributes, coupled with an explosive bench, make this team downright scary. It begins with No. 41, though.
Nowitzki has bounced back from his injury plagued 2012-13 season to put together what is turning out to be a historical season; if Nowitzki finishes the season with the same shooting percentages he has now, he would join Steve Nash and Hall of Famer Larry Bird as the third players in NBA History to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line, and 90 percent from the free throw line multiple times in their career. Nowitzki has repeatedly shown a Jordan-like ability to raise his game when the stakes are at their highest. Ask the Heat’s coach Erik Spoelstra if he still remembers the circles Carlisle coached around him during the NBA Finals; it is why every team in the West should worry should the Mavericks qualify for the playoffs. Need more proof? Look up at the rafters at the American Airlines Arena.