When a team is one win from the NBA Finals, especially so when the series is 3-0 in favor of said team, a silly thing to ask is just how good is this team that’s about to go to the NBA Finals?

Yet, seemingly here we are with the Dallas Mavericks. A Mavericks team that has lost four games total this postseason against the seventh, third, and second best teams in the NBA according to Cleaning the Glass’ net-rating.

Full disclosure: none of this really matters. Most of the debate about the Mavericks worthiness as a Finals team is sprung up online, through twitter debates and some podcast noise. This isn’t a dominant narrative, and most of the Mavericks players themselves likely couldn’t care less about what some of us blog boys are typing away. But it’s bugging me, so here are I am with what feels like an increasingly bold, brave take:

The Mavericks are an elite team.

Shocking, I know. Despite what the Mavericks have done since Feb. 5, when Kyrie Irving returned from an extended absence due to injury, the Mavericks to most neutral observers are a plucky upstart that just happened to land in the Finals by happenstance and shot variance. Never mind these things that actually happened in front of god and everybody:

  • From Feb. 5 to the end of the season, the Mavericks finished 24-9. That’s 33 games, 40 percent of the season. That’s a large enough sample size to think “yeah this seems real.” A prevailing counter to that is “post-All Star break doesn’t matter”, insinuating that the NBA’s doldrums of late February and March cancels out most of what teams are doing, as the idea is most good teams are just waiting for the playoffs to start, most bad teams are waiting for vacations to start, and everyone is tired and hurt enough that the games lose their competitive edge. My response is well historically sure, but since the play-in was implemented in 2020, it feels like there has been a big increase is competitiveness toward the end of the season across the board. Do you think the Kings weren’t trying to win as many games as they could when the Mavericks beat them by 40 in late March and both teams were clawing to make it to the sixth seed? Were the Lakers taking it easy or the Warriors? Did the Suns coast through to the end or did they and New Orleans fight like hell to try and avoid the play-in? Combine that with the 65-games rule, which meant the best of the best had to play more to qualify for major awards like MVP and All-NBA, and I think there was more competitive basketball throughout the season compared to previous seasons before the play-in. I think just blanket sweeping what the mavericks did when Irving returned from injury and after the trades as late-season noise is pretty silly. It’s not like it was a two week hot flash — it was 33 games and Dallas sustained it basically the entire way. The Mavericks only lost a few games toward the end of the season because of a Luka Doncic injury and rest once they locked in the five seed.
  • The talent upgrades at the deadline were real. PJ Washington was a 12th overall pick from Kentucky, and averaged 15 points per game in his final full season with the Hornets and had some decent defensive block/steal metrics. Daniel Gafford’s rim protection numbers have been pretty good for a few years now. Derrick Jones Jr. is probably their only truly “lucky” roster addition, but every contender usually has a guy pop like that to work because it’s really hard to win in this league, like Bruce Brown blowing up in Denver after some solid but unspectacular seasons in Brooklyn. You can’t tell me this roster is in the ballpark talent wise of any of the past Doncic rosters, even the 2022 Western Conference Finals squad. That team was playing second rounders and undrafted free agents at key spots, and they were great. Now Dallas has first round talents and lottery picks plugging up most of the spots in the starting lineup and rotation.
  • The drafting of Dereck Lively and him being this good swings a lot of this, and no one could have expected him to be this good this quickly. I said as much in my season predictions. But it became apparent just as quickly that they had struck gold and he’s only gotten better as the season went on. Lively’s impact on this team has been felt from opening night, so it’s not a surprise he’s continued to get better as the season progressed.
  • The Mavericks just went through the seventh, and second best teams in net rating to get to the conference finals, and are one game from taking down the team with the third best net-rating. The Clippers series is fair to bring up — no Kawhi Leonard is big, but Doncic was hurt as well, and did anyone ever think a Mavericks team could win a playoff series with Doncic’s shooting numbers hovering barely above 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three? That only happens because of the Mavericks defense, which was sustained from the regular season. The Thunder shot variance point is so silly. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, the Thunder shot 40.7 percent from three on “wide open” attempts, with wide open defined as the nearest defender six feet away. Dallas only made three more wide open threes total in the series against Oklahoma City. In the playoffs total, Mavericks opponents are shooting 36 percent from three. That’s hardly a lucky number, so how much variance is there really? The only type of team that gave Dallas trouble after Irving returned on Feb. 5 were five out teams that spaced the three point line with their center. Look at those Pacers/Celtics games right after the deadline. The Thunder *should* have given this defense fits but it didn’t, although I think it’s clear the Thunder were the most challenging team of their run so far. Despite that Dallas still won in six games without home court advantage and the Thunder being completely healthy and the Mavericks missing Maxi Kleber, who was good in the second half of the season and in the Clippers series. The Thunder were the one seed, the Wolves the three seed. They were two and three in season long net rating. For the Mavericks to run through both of them with potentially only two losses (potentially more, pending the end of the Wolves series) cannot be explained by lucky matchups or fluky shooting.

This Mavericks team is legit and their defense isn’t smoke and mirrors. You take away the rim and the paint, and teams are gonna struggle to score, even with the three point shot being so important.

It definitely helps that the rule changes with less fouls called favor their style of play, but those changes applied to everyone. From Feb. 5 to the end of the season, the Mavericks had the sixth best offense and the sixth best defense, along with a net-rating that for the season would have ranked fourth in the league. Would we even be having this discussion if the Mavericks started the season with the roster they had after the deadline? I doubt it.

What more do you want from a team than beat two of the top three teams in net rating and do it fairly convincingly before the consensus is “Well damn this team might be elite themselves.” It’s not the Mavericks fault they didn’t get a crack at the Nuggets, just like it wasn’t the 2011 title team’s fault they didn’t get a chance at the Spurs, who were upset in the first round by the Grizzlies. The Nuggets didn’t really have a murder’s row playoff run last year, they played the 12th (Suns), 16th (Wolves), and 17th (Lakers) ranked teams by net-rating according to Cleaning the Glass and I’ve been on the record repeatedly praising that team and thinking they were a juggernaut. because they were! The idea that this Dallas team is a flash in the pan like Miami’s run last year is very weird. Miami got hot from three in a way they never were in the regular season. Dallas is winning with elite defense that was very much there in the final 33 games of the regular season. It always felt sustainable because taking away the rim means more than taking away threes, in my mind. Shots at the rim are the best shots in basketball. It’s not a surprise that every Mavericks opponent has struggled in different ways offensively against them, because cutting off the paint from a basketball team is like cutting off their oxygen. From Feb. 5 to the end of the season, opponents shot 61.3 percent at the rim against the Mavericks, the third best mark in the league during that time. In the playoffs, opponents are shooting 56.4 percent at the rim against the Mavericks, best amongst all playoff teams.

The Mavericks are one win from the NBA Finals, and barring something historic happening, should clinch their spot within the next few days, if not on Tuesday after Game 4. If you’ve been watching for most of the last three months, this wouldn’t be all that shocking. That’s what elite teams do.

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By Tips Clear

Meet Thiruvenkatam, a professional blogger. With a keen interest in diverse subjects spanning technology, business, lifestyle, and more, He brings a unique perspective and wealth of knowledge to our platform. Drawing from years of experience and a passion for sharing insights, his articles and blog posts offer readers engaging and informative content that enriches their understanding and enhances their lives. Explore the world through his eyes and discover the depth of expertise they bring to our multi-author website

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