The Dallas Mavericks have vastly improved this offseason.
But by how much have they improved?
Homecourt advantage means nothing in the West, as proven by last season’s playoffs. Three of the four first-round series’ in the West went seven games, while the other went six (Portland and Houston). Having four games at home in a best-of-seven series means absolutely nothing.
What matters is where you rank in terms of the starting lineup, and who can come off the bench and give you 15-20 minutes a night in relief.
The Mavs have a top-tier starting lineup, as well as a deep bench. But saying where they rank in the Western Conference is a crapshoot. If you asked me right now, I’d say the Mavs are one of the top four teams in the West behind San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland.
I’m not one to question how other sports outlets conduct their season predictions, especially months before the season actually begins. But ESPN.com did a summer forecast, ranking each team in the conference, 1-15.
A panel of almost every NBA writer known to man at ESPN were surveyed, and the consensus was that Dallas is the fifth best team in the West, and would finish with a record of 50-32.
You can check that out by clicking here.
I’m not sure exactly how a plus-1 win differential from a year ago constitutes the fifth best record in the conference of death, but again, I’m not one to question.
ESPN has the Blazers, Spurs, Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers all ahead of the Mavs. But Dallas has the talent and the coaching smarts to possibly leapfrog one of those teams.
If there’s a team that could fall slightly, the Clippers are probably the most realistic option. It doesn’t seem like they got any better. Darren Collison (Mavs fans will forever love him) did great things as Chris Paul‘s backup. Transitioning from Collison to Jordan Farmar isn’t much of an upgrade.
Lob City doesn’t have enough depth to advance further in the playoffs. After that All-Star-caliber starting five, where do the Clippers go? That was their downfall en route to being eliminated by OKC (a strong case can be made the refs had a play in that).
By the time we get to April, if the Mavs are in the thick of things with those four teams, Dallas is going to get the edge over Los Angeles based on depth alone. The same case can be made about Portland. Dallas could very well win 50-54 games this season and be the fifth best team in the conference.
But if the Clippers and Mavs meet in a 4-5 matchup, the Mavs’ depth and offensive firepower would make all the difference in a seven-game series.
This point essentially seems moot if every team in the West could make a run. If the Mavs closed the deal against the Spurs last season, who’s to say the wouldn’t have made a run to the Western Conference Finals?
The Mavs of 2014-15 are much better than last year, and that’s saying something. They’re a couple pieces away (primarily a solid lock at point guard and backup shooting guard), but they’re going to be one of those teams contending at the end of the year, whether they’re fourth or still eighth.
If we learned anything from last year, it doesn’t matter where you’re placed.