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The NBA Dark Horse No One is Talking About

Ever since the announcement about the return of the regular season, NBA fans have engrossed themselves in the potential craziness of this year’s playoffs. While the top teams are still predicted to have deep runs in the playoffs, the circumstances are ripe for an underdog team to win a championship this year.

When considering potential “dark horses,” teams like the Trailblazers, the Pelicans, and even the Nets are the prime candidates. This is primarily due to the star power of each team and is not based on real basketball context.

The problem with both the Blazers and the Pelicans is that at best only one of those teams will make the playoffs, and more than likely it will be as an 8th seed. This will mean a first round series against the Lakers, which is not a good matchup for either team.

In the case for the Nets, their odds primarily are based on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving returning to play this season. This is of course very subjective on their two stars’ return, and even if the condition is met, I would argue that the team is no longer a dark horse and a legitimate contender for the championship.

The one team that deserves more recognition and could possibly make a huge run in the NBA playoffs would be the Dallas Mavericks. They were a team that early on got a lot of media attention, but have recently been under the radar recently. Despite this they have arguably been playing their best basketball prior to the break, and is the team best positioned to take advantage of the current situation.

While I could provide a plethora of reasons why this team could make a huge run, there are three in particular that gives this team an edge over every other dark horse team in the league. They are a team that despite having only the 7th seed in the West, are primed to make a big splash once the season begins. 

Supporting Cast    

The biggest misconception about NBA success is that the only thing that matters is having a star and while having a star is incredibly important, the “other guys” play a crucial role in the team’s success. And the Dallas Mavericks have undoubtedly one of the most skilled supporting casts in the NBA.

Players like Tim Hardway Jr, Seth Curry, Jalen Brunson and Maxi Klieber are all playing significant minutes for the Mavericks and taking a lot of pressure off of both Luka and Kristaps.

Consider other teams like the Portland Trail Blazers or even a contending team like the Houston Rockets. For both of those teams, their star players have to play amazing in every game in order to win. If Damian Liliard doesn’t play spectacularly, then their team simply will lose as they have no one on the roster that can propel them to a win.

The Mavs on the other hand thrive on team basketball, and they share the load offensively. This means that even if Luka or Kristaps have a pedestrian night, there is still a chance for that team to win. This is part of the reason why  the Mavericks have the highest offensive rating in the league.

Another important reason for this is that everyone of the players understands their role on this team. Take for instance both Seth Curry and Tim Harway Jr. Seth is the three point specialist on the team, and once Luka forces the double team, he will then be ready to shoot the open three-pointer. He does it so well that he has a 3-point field goal percentage of 45.3%.

Tim Hardway Jr on the other hand is meant to be both a playmaker and a scorer on the offensive end. This is done so Luka doesn’t have to be the primary creator on each offensive possession. It is evident as he averages the third highest ppg on his team with 15.8 pts, while also doing this with over 40% field-goal efficiency.

Overall the Mavericks have a great supporting cast that could play a pivotal role in play-off run. 

Positioning

Currently the Mavericks are essentially locked for either the 7th or 6th seed in the West. This is very important as the team no longer will not have to worry about playing the Lakers in the first round who in my opinion is their worst matchup. They will instead play against either the Clippers or the Nuggets.

While both of these teams are very good, the question will be whether or not they can contain the Mavericks explosive offense. And honestly in terms of matchups, neither team has a great match-up against both of the Mavericks stars.

For the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard could definitely slow down Luka Doncic, but they have no one that matches up well against Kristaps Porzingis. Inversely, Denver has few forwards that could stop Porzingis, but there is simply no one on the team that will be able to take care of Luka individually. And in the case of the Nuggets, since there is no longer a home court, it will take out one of the major advantages of being a higher seed.

If the Mavs are able to win the first-matchup, this could provide the team with much needed confidence to play their best basketball for the rest of their run.

Another thing to note is that the Mavericks were actually a very good road team as they have a better record on the road as compared to playing in their home arena. This will help them significantly in later rounds to teams that would rely heavily on the fans support.

Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis

At the end of the day, stars dictate how far a team will inevitably go in the play-offs. A dominant player in any circumstance can will his/her team to victories. And the dynamic Duo of Kristap Porzingis and Luka Doncic are no exception. They are two of the brightest stars in the league.

Let’s first focus on Luka who has had an MVP caliber year in his sophomore campaign.

He is averaging almost a triple-double scoring 28 points 9.3 rebound and 8.7 assists. Luka simply does it all offensively, and while he may not be the most athletic guy on the court, his understanding of the game allows him to make amazing decisions on the court.

In clutch-time, there are few players that have his ability to simply take-over and single handlely win games. He is the next great player in the NBA, and like many great players, he will be motivated to dominate the competition and prove himself as one of the best talents in the league. 

In the case of Porzingis, he is a legitimate match-up nightmare against any team. He has both the size and the skills to virtually abuse any matchup the defense places his way. If you put a traditional big on him, he has the ability to stay behind the three-point line to shoot over those players, and if they do try and contest, he has the speed and agility to blow past them for easy dunks.

If the defense uses a smaller/quicker forward to guard Porzingis, then Dallas can simply put him in the post and allow his 7”3 frame to dominate the smaller defenders. The versatility that Kristaps provides on offense not only allows him to score from anywhere, but makes it easier for his teammates to score.

For instance, a center like Rudy Gobert or Anthony Davis, who would normally stay near the paint for rim protection, has to now stay close to Porzingis. If not, they risk allowing Porzingis to torch their defense from downtown. By taking out the primary rim protector, players now have more room to create and can drive to the basket without worrying about getting blocked.

On the defensive side of the court, Porzingis is the perfect anchor. He has both the size and the quickness to defend against guards in the pick n roll, and is a very underrated rim protector.  This is why Porzingis is the unicorn and the crazy part is that he was still recovering from an injury prior to the suspension of play.

I believe that this rest will truly help remind the league of his true ceiling as one of the more dominant bigs in the league. 

I say all of this fully acknowledging that on paper the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers are clear favorites to win the championships. However, when considering other potential contenders, no on can sleep on the Dallas Mavericks.  


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