With the NBA playoffs almost among us, each of the 16 teams who will eventually make up the postseason will have dreams of going all the way and be crowned the NBA champions. Of course for some this is still merely a pipe dream, while for others it is the absolute end goal, with any other result deemed a failure. With that in mind we take a quick and lighthearted look at how each team can potentially do once the playoffs start.
Why They Can Win It All
The Dallas Mavericks have proved a stubborn bunch this season. In a crowded Western Conference, they have hung around and won 23 games away from home, no easy thing in this league. Dirk Nowitzki is aging, of course, but he still continued to be the go-to guy for this team. The Mavs score the eighth-most points per game of any team in the league (104.8), which kind of tosses out the notion that they are and old team that doesn’t get up too much offensively much these days. Nowitzki is a big reason for this, his 21.7 points a game is up almost four points on last year, while also shooting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. His free throw shooting is a brilliant .898 as the 35-year-old grand master continues to get it done for his team. Monta Ellis, however, has proved crucial for the Mavericks this season. His 19 points and 5.8 assists are approaching All-Star level, and the boundless energy and talent of the guy have been a big boost to this team, especially with the Jose Calderon experiment not being the most brilliant move the franchise ever made.
Where this team has had joy, and easy buckets, is the fact that they are the fourth-best team in the league at stealing the ball from opponents (8.6 a night). Monta Ellis is a key reason for this, he is the second-best shooting guard in the NBA at stealing the ball (1.72), just behind league leading Jimmy Bulter of the Chicago Bulls (1.85). Also in their respective positions, Nowitzki is seventh in the league in steals, while Calderon is 30th. When you couple that with the fact that this team turns the ball over the third-fewest of any teams in the league, that combination of taking care of the ball, making a lot of steals and scoring as a team at an above average clip means this team has done a lot of fundamental things right this season. When the playoffs begin they will be a tricky tie and a team that will be hard to kill off quickly.
Why They Might Exit Early
For all the things they do right, Nowitzki is getting on and cannot do it at a high level on both ends anymore. Ellis, well let’s just day defending has never been his calling card. As a result, this team ranks 26th in the league in rebounding (40.9) and this can and will be an issue against the more imposing frontcourts in the Western Conference. Shawn Marion still contributes 6.6 rebounds a night at 35, but his best days of producing on the court are now over. The Mavs also allow opponents to shoot 61.7 percent from inside of five feet from the basket. That number may point to a soft underbelly that can be exposed by other teams. Bench depth is also at times questionable, and while Vince Carter has carved out a nice campaign for himself as a dependable sixth man, there isn’t much more that stands out as being able to make key contributions in crunch time. Certainly the playoffs are a time for stars to take over though, and while Nowitzki is a one of them and Ellis is playing some of his best basketball in a team structure, there are simply better and younger superstars out there.
While the Mavericks also shoot the 3 ball well and make a lot of their free throws, it is just a case of there being better teams out there. Certainly few expected their 2011 title success to happen at the beginning of that particular postseason, and right now there are minimal expectations on this team too. While statistically they are doing a lot of things right on the court, certainly more than some of their postseason rivals, their seeding means they have a tough first round match up.
Vince Carter. Now 37, his role in this team has continually changed since landing on this team. He appears to have really embraced coming off the bench, and this year his 12 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just less than 25 minutes has been great for their second unit to lean on. Having played as a small forward last year for this team, these days he is seeing far more time at the 2 spot, providing a nice continuous flow to scoring output for this team when Ellis heads to the bench. Like others on this team, his defending on a personal level is questionable at best, but when the team scores often, takes care of the ball and gets steals too, he can get by. Calls for him to be sixth man of the year by fans are a bit wide of the mark, although it would be nice to see, but for a team that doesn’t have all the star power in the world, his contributions are very important.
How They’ll Do
Had they been seeded differently, this Mavericks could have made the conference semis. Owner Mark Cuban continues to hope that he can land a big free agent to play with Nowitzki before ultimately taking over from him. This summer will be no different, and so this time next year depending on where free agents land the Mavs could be a real contender. As it is, teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and to a lesser extend Houston Rockets are simply a rung above them. Again, they will be tricky to dispose of, but they’ll still be going home after round 1, despite the fact there is much to like here.