The Dallas Mavericks, red-hot offensively since the all-star break, ended a six-game home stand with a deflating 104-101 loss to the less-than-spectacular Sacramento Kings on Thursday night.
“This is a team that we should beat, that we’re playing for something much bigger and more than they are,” Chandler Parsons said after the loss. “This is the type of loss that kind of bites you in the butt that you wish you could have back in a couple of weeks.”
It seems that many of the same overarching questions from the first half of the season—Is this a playoff-capable team? Can they find some semblance of consistency?—remain unanswered.
“What I like is we play up to good teams,” owner Mark Cuban said in January. “What I don’t like is we play down to bad teams.”
What has been made resoundingly clear over the past seven games, though, is that Rick Carlisle’s offensive system is potent. The Mavericks tout the highest offensive rating (114.9 points per 100 possessions) and true shooting percentage (59.2) in the league since the all-star break. Compared to the first 55 games of the season, Dallas is scoring 11.6 more points per 100 possessions and has raised its true shooting percentage by 5.4 percentage points.
So what’s behind the noticeable offensive progressions?
Carlisle’s outfit is hoisting a ton of three-pointers: Since the all-star break, Dallas is taking (30.7 per 100 possessions compared to 28.5) and making (11.5 per 100 possessions compared to 9.7) more three-pointers, while raising its percentage from 34 to 37.5. This season, Dallas is shooting pretty well from all over the court.
Much of this has to do with the elevated play of Parsons and Wesley Matthews. Parsons is in the midst of the best stretch of his Mavericks career, averaging 19.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists, while shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc over the past 15 games. Matthews had a poor performance against the Kings, but is scoring more (14 compared to 12.1) and shooting better (58.6 true shooting percentage compared to 52.2) since the all-star break.
A proponent of unselfish play and ball movement, Carlisle’s offense has been keeping the ball moving. The Mavericks lead the league in passes per game since the all-star break (355.6), hurling nearly 20 more compared to the first 55 games of the season. While a sizable portion of the team’s baskets before the all-star break were assisted (58.1 percent), Dallas ranks fifth in the league over the past seven games in the metric (62.5 percent). In total, the Mavericks are producing 64.1 points per game via assist since the break, an uptick of 11.7 compared to the first 55 games.
David Lee’s arrival can help explain some of the uptick, too. One of the best big men in the league at facilitating, Lee has helped Dallas rotations keep the ball moving since he arrived after reaching a buyout with the Boston Celtics. In five games, he’s averaging 10 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest.
The Mavericks play a hellacious stretch of games this month, matching up with the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers (twice) and Golden State Warriors (twice) over the next three weeks. While the ball-movement progressions are sustainable, whether or not Dallas can get the open looks along the perimeter that it has been feasting on over the past week remains unclear. The team’s quotidian triple-digit scoring columns will be considerably tested this month.
FiveThirtyEight’s projections give Dallas (33-29), who is currently sixth in the Western Conference, a 78 percent chance of making the postseason. Should Parsons and Matthews continue to contribute a scoring punch to help Dirk Nowitzki — and should Lee continue to be utilized and improve in Carlisle’s schemes — Dallas’ offense looks more than capable enough of keeping the franchise in the playoff picture come April.