To think, there was a point when the Dallas Mavericks were 9-14.

That feels like a lifetime ago. And it genuinely seems inconceivable that a team that looked dead in the water in early January clinched a top-six playoff spot with a victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday. Yet, it happened. This team dealt with several injuries to Kristaps Porzingis, a COVID-19 outbreak within its ranks, and a weather crisis that halted basketball in Texas. But somehow, it solidified a playoff position before the defending NBA champions did.

Only in the NBA can that happen. There is a reason the league’s slogan is “where amazing happens.”

When the buzzer sounded on the 114-110 victory, it didn’t matter that the game was closer than it should have been. It didn’t matter that Dallas nearly lost to the Raptors C team. It didn’t matter that Luka Doncic tallied another triple-double, meanwhile, Kristaps Porzingis led Dallas in the scoring department. All that mattered was that Dallas won. Everything before, the ups and the downs, the trials, and the shortcomings, are water under the bridge. The dreary past is making way for a more promising future. A playoff future.

That’s what makes what happened Friday night so monumental. That was the bulletin board material. That was the root of the fast start and the urgency in the nail-biting finish against Toronto.

However, Mavericks players and coaches will be the first ones to tell you that they aren’t done. The goal for the season wasn’t just to make the playoffs; it was to make some noise once there.

So it wasn’t a surprise when all Rick Carlisle said after the game was “onward.”

Jalen Brunson echoed similar sentiments.

“We’re in it,” Brunson said on the telecast. “Whoever we play is going to be in for a rude awakening. We have a lot of talent. A lot of guys that love to play hard and love to play together. No matter what the situation is we are going to be ready.”

That onward and together mentality helped Dallas turn its season around. And it is that same mentality that will help the Mavs compete against the other NBA elites during the grueling NBA postseason.

The game by the numbers:

Porzingis enjoyed a quality game in the scoring department, notching 21 points in 34 minutes. 15 of his 21 came in the first half, and with each passing moment on the court, he looked more like his usual self.

Doncic’s 20-point, 10-rebound, and 11-assist triple-double was his 11th on the season. And down the stretch, the Mavs needed every part of his contributions. Late in the second half, Dallas let its convincing lead slip before Doncic subbed in again. What once looked like a convincing double-digit victory, quickly turned into a six-point game with four minutes to go and Toronto on fire. The play of Doncic and Dorian Finney-Smith kept the Raptors at bay en route to a playoff securing victory.

Tim Hardaway Jr.’s electrifying hot streak finally came to an end. He scored seven points on 1-11 from the field, but he managed to stay engaged defensively. Hardaway’s value extends beyond the box score, and it was evident Friday night because he still managed to be a plus-seven in box score plus-minus while on the floor, yet he struggled shooting the ball.

Jalen Brunson may not be the Most Improved Player in the NBA this season, but he is definitely the most improved Maverick of the year. He provided energy, effort, and a cool 19 points off of the bench Friday night. Brunson’s game is aging much like wine; it just gets better with time.

Looking ahead:

Securing a spot in the top six came down to the last three games of the season for Dallas. Now securing the No. 5 seed will come down to the final game on Sunday. However, for at least one night, Dallas can celebrate clinching a spot in the playoffs. It was a position no one expected the Mavericks to be in after the slow start and seemingly insurmountable injuries, but here they are anyway. This season’s turnaround wasn’t pretty, but it sure was hard-fought. No one can take that away from Dallas. And now the only team standing in the way of the No. 5 seed are the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

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Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.
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