Mavs win 50 games for the 10th straight season

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The Dallas Mavericks have this odd tendency to win lots and lots of
basketball games. Or at least the post-2000 Mavericks have such a
tendency. Before that, Dallas suffered a decade of basketball
incompetence, boasting win totals of 40 and 36 in their most successful
seasons. In the 90s, the Mavs won 30.3% of their games, had back-to-back Netsesque seasons in ’92-’93 (11 wins) and ’93-’94 (13 wins), and were an NBA laughing stock.

Then, two things happened:

  1. The Dallas Mavericks traded for Dirk Nowitzki on the night of the 1998 NBA Draft.
  2. On January 4th, 2000, Mark Cuban became the majority owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

Both are obviously very important to what happened next, though it’s hard to determine exactly how much impact one would have had without the other. Nowitzki is an all-time great, but how far does he get in this league without an owner and a head coach (pre-senility Don Nelson) who were supportive of what he could do rather than try to mold him into something that he wasn’t? On the flip side, how does the Mark Cuban regime fair without the stabilizing influence of one of the league’s top stars?

Both have been absolutely crucial to what has happened in Dallas over the last ten seasons, and both are, to this day, consistently undervalued.

This isn’t a call for awareness on behalf of Cuban and Nowitzki, though, just a call for recognition for what they’ve been able to accomplish. Those two are the undeniable constants throughout this decade of Maverick basketball, in which Dallas has not only made the playoffs every season, but won a whopping 50 games every time out. Only three other teams in history can claim that same level of consistent success.

One of those teams is the Celtics, who pulled of 10 consecutive 50-win seasons from 1958-1968. Another is the Lakers, who did so from 1979-1991. The third and final team is the Spurs, who have done so since 1999, and have a chance to extend their streak if they can win five of their last eight games. Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki. Think about that.

Half of their 50-win seasons are actually 57+ win seasons, with three of them topping 60. The Memphis Grizzlies, who were the Mavs’ opponent for their 50th win last night, have won 50 games just once in their 15-year history. Think about that.

 The most obvious negative response to Dallas success will point out that for all of the Mavs’ success, they don’t have any championships to show for it. True. But Cuban has put together a team that has had enduring success and was considered a perennial contender. You can pick out years that were weaker for the Mavs than others (2004, 2008), but this is a team that was built to win games and did so at an alarming rate. There may not be a trophy in the Maverick office, but this is still a team that has experienced some incredible success over the last 10 years.

Even more impressive, though, is this: even after 10 years of excellence, 10 years of winning, and 10 years (well 12, really) of Nowitzkiness, the Mavs aren’t slowing down. They could very well be at this same mark next year, cruising into their 50th win with a few games to spare. That’s just how it goes in Dallas, and Mavs fans accustomed to an owner willing to go to any lengths to win and the greatest player to ever wear a Maverick uniform don’t know any other way.

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

LeBron James
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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.