I think it’s fair to say that Dallas isn’t going to get the press that Boston has been getting since about a month into its second-half turnaround. Jayson Tatum has been unbelievable, which is new for him because he’s lacked the consistency that’s demanded of great players. What Luka Dončić is doing offensively isn’t new, but what his team is doing defensively is something we’ve haven’t seen. It’s on par with the ferocity we’ve seen from the Celtics, and has both teams in their conference’s finals, so where are the flowers for Dallas?
They don’t have a Marcus Smart DPOY winner, or a Jaylen Brown-style archetype of a second option either. It’s Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Spencer Dinwiddie, and a bunch of lanky wing defenders like Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock. The most interesting aspect of the Mavs is Luka Dončić, and he spent the first half of the season rightfully taking shit for coming into the year looking like he’s been filling his Nalgene with sweet tea.
New GM Nico Harrison’s big move was trading the team’s perceived second-best player for a couple withering role players from Washington. New coach Jason Kidd’s most notable coaching moments before this were getting demolished in the Giannis Antetokuonmpo biography and asking a player to bump him so he could spill his Diet Coke and stop play because he was out of timeouts. (People never forget, Jason.)
Dončić also injured his calf during the last game of the season, and it looked like bad luck awaited the franchise that hadn’t been out of the first round in more than a decade. While winning a playoff series without your best player for the majority of the games would normally get the media’s attention, beating the Jazz was met with a “So what?” because NBA pundits hate Rudy Gobert and spent the past calendar year gleefully dragging Utah. If the calf is bothering the Slovenian phenom, I’d be interested in what a healthy Luka looks like, because this one is averaging 35, 10, and 6 through 10 games this postseason.
Maybe if Dallas didn’t just twist the knife in Chris Paul’s playoff narrative, they’d be getting more love for knocking off the only team to win more than 60 games this year. The stories following Game 7’s dismemberment read more like eulogies for this run of Suns’ basketball than ringing endorsements of the Mavs’ performance, but when a title favorite gets pantsed in a winner-take-all Sunday showcase, that tends to happen.
What I don’t understand is how the oddsmakers — who just watched the Mavs figure out the Suns in real time like a shape-shifting sentinel from X-Men: Days of Future Past — saw that and said, that’s the worst team left of the final four. Golden State is the title favorite heading into the conference finals at around +135 even though they haven’t really been pushed. I guess everyone is too busy congratulating Game 6 Klay on his big night to notice that Thompson has been pretty pedestrian by his standards.
The Celtics have the second-best odds (+200), which is understandable because coming back from down 3-2 to beat Antetokounmpo and the defending champs is a feat worth drooling over. The absence of Khris Middleton does make one want to inform people that their stare has crossed over to leer territory, though.
And, the Heat has no business getting more favorable chances (+430) than the Mavs (+600) after toppling teetering NBA franchises in Atlanta and Philadelphia in the first two rounds. Following the collapse of Joel Embiid’s face, the slightest breeze would’ve made those teams crumble, and Jimmy Butler is nothing if not opportunistic.
With Milwaukee now out of the playoffs, Dallas arguably has the best player remaining, and that counts for something in a season without a designated super team — or at least one that’s still standing. If I was in a profession where disposable income was a thing, I’d take some of it and put a few dollars down on Dallas to win the Finals. It’s at least worth a $20 flier at that line.
If you want a conspiracy theory about why the Mavs have yet to get at least a partial share of the spotlight, it could be that the league isn’t super motivated to put an organization in the middle of yet another sexual misconduct scandal at the forefront of its postseason ad campaign. Dončić is more likely the second coming of LeBron James than he is Dirk Nowitzki, and it’s strange that he’s not being presented as the era-defining player that he projects as.
We can get into the debate on if the NBA knows how to market its international players, or whether Americans simply aren’t as interested in them at another time, but one thing is clear — Dallas isn’t being discussed enough. That’ll change when the Warriors’ offense stagnates after a few run throughs, Dončić finds the sweet spot between dominating and distributing, and the Mavs are en route to another upset.
Just know that when I’m taking my “I told you so” victory lap, it’ll be less about having the right take and more about overcompensating for the bet I didn’t have the money to make.