NBA Season Preview: Dallas Mavericks

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Last Season: Coming off their incredible championship season, the Mavericks let defensive anchor Tyson Chandler go to New York in order to retain future cap flexibility. While that decision certainly hurt the chances of a true title defense, the acquisition of Lamar Odom probably buried it altogether. Despite those massive offseason failings, the veteran Mavs grinded out the regular season and survived a few nagging injuries en route to a return appearance to the playoffs. The young Thunder would ultimately take out the reigning champs, but the Mavs put up a strong fight and proved once again that if you have Dirk Nowitzki, you have a chance.

Key Departures: The championship backcourt is now completely gone. Jason Terry was the Mavericks second best offensive option by a wide margin, and now he’s in Boston. That hurts, but Jason Kidd joining Chandler in New York also deprives the Mavs of some stability on both ends of the floor. Backup big man Ian Mahinmi is now in Indiana. Shipping Lamar Odom back to Los Angeles was addition by subtraction.

Key Additions: The Mavericks went into scramble mode after swinging and missing for Deron Williams, but considering the circumstances, they added some nice pieces. You could make a strong case that Elton Brand was the Defensive Player of the Year last season, and although he’s a different type of defender, he’ll fill a void that was left unfilled by Chandler’s departure last year. The Mavs also added Dirk’s German Olympic teammate Chris Kaman to the frontcourt, who should provide some stretch if he can somehow manage to finally stay healthy. Lightning bug Darren Collison will take over as starting point guard, and O.J. Mayo gets a chance to live up to the hype and fill the Jet’s shoes as a big time scorer.

Three Keys to the Mavericks season:

1) Will the defense be elite?

It’s not easy to build a top defense with so many rotating parts, but Rick Carlisle’s defensive schemes are more important than the individual personnel. Dallas ranked second in defensive efficiency in the West last season (8th overall) despite trotting out a few undesirable defenders on the wing (Terry and Vince Carter), missing Kidd for much of the year, and having no real “plus” defender regularly on the court outside of Shawn Marion and Delonte West. It’s scary, but the Mavericks should be even better defensively this season and really have legitimate top 5 defensive efficiency potential. Collison will provide plenty of ball pressure and annoy opposing point guards, while O.J. Mayo is capable of playing a very physical style of perimeter defense when he’s motivated to do so. Kaman and Brand have years of experience playing together from their Clipper days and should solidify the backline. The defensive ace in the hole here is second round draft pick Jae Crowder, who can help the Mavs tremendously when they employ the trapping schemes this defense is built on.

2) A few veterans are still there, but it’s time to focus on developing young talent.

What direction is this going? Dirk Nowitzki has at least one or two killer seasons left in him, but he’ll soon be approaching the twilight of his career. Although it may not always be pretty, the Mavs would be well served to really see what they have in guys like Rodrigue Beaubois, Jared Cunningham, Dominique Jones and Jae Crowder and begin to wean themselves off of Carter, Marion and West. The great Mavericks rebuild looks more and more inevitable by the day, but it can’t truly begin until the Mavericks know if they have future pieces in place right now.

3) Can Dirk carry even more of the load offensively?

Already a high usage player (29.21 usage percentage, 13th in league), Nowitzki will be relied upon even more than usual to pace the Mavericks offensively. Although a 34-year-old with knee trouble taking that much of the scoring load would typically set off all kinds of alarms, no one makes more impossible shots than Nowitzki. He’s indefensible in the sense that degree of difficulty means nothing to him, as evidenced by his insane shooting percentages from 16-23 feet over his career (50 percent last year), which is the most inefficient shot in basketball for regular humans. All that said, Nowitzki is already slated to miss time this season, and the Mavs are ill-equipped to handle that. Can O.J. Mayo step up as a number one option? It’s a scary thought, but it may be a reality for the Mavericks, who could sport one of the league’s worst offenses (20th in offensive efficiency last year with Terry) without Dirk’s magic touch.

What Mavericks fans should fear: Basketball purgatory. The Mavericks don’t have enough offensive punch to be considered among the West’s elite any more, even though their defense is good enough to have them battle it out with Utah and Minnesota for one of the last seeds out West. Dallas is a franchise truly tied to their one star — if Nowitzki is healthy and at his best, they’ve got a puncher’s chance against anyone. But with that blue sky looking less and less likely, the Mavericks may be headed for another first round exit or a narrow miss of the playoffs, and may have an ugly decision awaiting them that their fanbase won’t love.

How it likely works out: Carlisle and Nowitzki should keep the ship afloat for another year and have the Mavs contend for a playoff spot, but the big challenges will come during survival mode without Nowitzki. So long as their big star is still in big D, the Mavs can’t truly justify being a seller or a buyer at the deadline, so they may just have to punt this season and hope they don’t butcher another chance this summer to acquire a star.

Prediction: 43-39, winning the 8th seed in a battle with Minnesota down the stretch. Another first round tilt with the Thunder would likely be on deck, which would spell doom for the Mavs hopes at another miraculous playoff run.

Derrick Favors, Mason Plumlee ejected after scuffle during Jazz, Nuggets game (VIDEO)

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The most pressing question out of this is not even the fight itself.

In the first quarter of Utah’s eventual win over Denver, Jazz big man Derrick Favors got tangled up with Denver’s center Mason Plumlee. Favors pulled Plumlee’s arm, at which point Plumlee came back and got in his face, then Favors shoves Plumlee and a little scuffle breaks out.

Both Favors and Plumlee were ejected for the incident. Utah’s Royce O’Neale and Denver’s Will Barton picked up technicals.

None of that is what people are talking about.

Watch the video again: Denver’s Nikola Jokic leaves the bench during the fight and heads down the baseline — by the rule that should lead to a suspension. Jokic never steps on to the court (he stays along the baseline) and never engages with the combatants. Still, guys have been suspended for less.

Jokic went on to score 28 points, grab 21 rebounds, and he dished out 6 assists. It wasn’t enough as Rudy Gobert had 15 points and three blocks, and Donovan Mitchell had 35 points in a 114-108 Jazz win, one of their best in the season in what was a highly entertaining game.

James Harden scores 61, ties Kobe Bryant’s Madison Square Garden visitor’s record (VIDEO)

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James Harden has been on a Wilt Chamberlain-level streak the past few weeks, it’s unlike anything we have seen in the modern NBA.

Wednesday night he topped himself.

James Harden scored 61 points against the Knicks. That would be:

• Harden’s career high.
• Tied with Kobe Bryant for most points scored by an opponent in Madison Square Garden (Carmelo Anthony holds the overall record at 62).
• A Rockets’ franchise record.
• His 21st consecutive 30-point game, tying Chamberlain for fourth-longest such streak in league history.

Oh, and Harden had the seal and dunk that sealed the win.

Harden also had 15 rebounds in the game. The last player to have 60+ points and 15+ rebounds in a game? Some guy named Shaquille O’Neal back on March 6, 2000, with the Lakers.

Harden is playing like an MVP — and the banged-up Rockets need him to if they are to have a chance to win every night.

Report: Wizards not trading Bradley Beal, but if team slips Otto Porter could be available

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The Washington Wizards have won 7-of-10 and have climbed up to the nine seed, just a couple of games out of the playoffs in the East. Without John Wall, the Wizards are making a push to get into the postseason.

Which impacts whether they are willing to trade players at the deadline.

The Wizards are not trading Bradley Beal — the most coveted of their stars — but might be open to Otto Porter trades if the team slides back, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Wizards star guard Bradley Beal is not going anywhere, which Washington has made adamantly clear, league sources told The Athletic. Depending on how the next week to two weeks shape up, the Wizards could look more aggressively toward moving Otto Porter. The Utah Jazz have been an interested suitor for Porter, league sources said.

History suggests the Wizards will not be sellers. The pattern for owner Ted Leonsis and GM Ernie Grunfeld has always been to think short term and make the playoff push, even when it was not the smart thing to do. We should expect that again. Maybe Washington crawls into one of the final playoff slots in the East, but is that the smart play?

Don’t expect the Wizards to move Porter, even if they wanted to finding a team to take on his $26 million for 13 points a game this season would be difficult (although Utah would be a good fit), plus Porter is owed $27.3 million next season and has a player option he very likely will pick up for $28.5 million two seasons from now.

Pacers’ Victor Oladipo stretchered off court after scary knee injury (VIDEO)

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Let’s hope this is not as scary as it looks.

Pacers’ All-NBA, All-Star guard Victor Oladipo was trying to defend a length-of-the-court pass to Pascal Siakam when Oladipo went down with a brutal knee injury were his kneecap was clearly not in the right place. Oladipo had to be taken off the court on a stretcher. The video is below, but be warned this is not pretty.

The team’s official announcement called the injry “serious.”

Oladipo is the Pacers’ best player and was a lock to be an All-Star reserve averaging 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.2 assists a game this season in Indiana. His efficiency had dropped his season as teams game planned more for him. Beyond that, you’d be hard pressed to find a kinder, more genuine person around the NBA than Oladipo.

Quickly the NBA community rallied on social media to Oladipo.