Beating the Cleveland Cavaliers doesn’t bring cause for celebration on a typical occasion. But in dismantling Cleveland on Friday night, the Dallas Mavericks moved one step closer to achieving the team’s ultimate goal.
The 110-90 final score suggests that this game was a run-of-the-mill, non-competitive, end-of-the-season matchup with a team destined for the playoffs and the other bound for the lottery. And though that is partly true, for Dallas this game still meant slightly more.
With the blowout victory, Dallas claimed its first Southwest Division crown since the 2009-10 season.
“Every win is really important,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “The league has maintained a level of importance with the division. When it’s a three-way tie it becomes very important. And there are other tie-breaking implications as well. I think it’s something that is always worthwhile. It shows that you’re one of the better teams.”
Context to the division crown:
Now netting the division crown doesn’t mean nearly as much as it did from 2005-16 when division winners were guaranteed a top four seed in the NBA playoffs. However, winning the division still has its incentives. For instance, in the case of a two-team tiebreaker, the division winner, and the team with a higher winning percentage within the division, will get the nod if the head-to-head matchup is split. In the case of a three-team tiebreaker, the division winner gets the nod over the non-division winners in the conference standings.
So though it may not mean as much, winning the division is still impactful as the end of the regular season nears.
Yet, for Josh Richardson, he doesn’t just want to stop at winning the Southwest crown. He wants to make real playoff noise.
“It’s cool, but we really wanna start winning things in a couple of weeks. That’s the big goal here,” Richardson said.
Carlisle echoed similar sentiments stating that “It’s big, and we will take it.”
History of the Southwest Division crown:
Winning the division crown doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does provide a good indication of how a team might fare in the playoffs. The last eight winners of the Southwest Division have played in either the NBA Finals, Conference Finals, or Conference Semifinals. Only two out of those eight division winners had the best record in the NBA: San Antonio (2013-14) and Houston (2017-18).
This doesn’t mean Dallas is headed to the NBA Finals as a five seed, but it does mean that the Mavs will most likely be a tough out in the playoffs. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Mavs win a series or – maybe – two.
The last team to win the Southwest Division and lose in the first round was the San Antonio Spurs at the end of the 2010-11 season. Every team since that point has at least won one series in the NBA playoffs.
History is on the Mavericks’ side when it comes to wins in the playoffs from Southwest Division champs. Now it’s simply up to the Mavs to live up to that expectation.
Key observations from win over Cleveland:
1.) Luka Doncic scored 24 points in 23 minutes, and it amounted to him scoring his 5,000 career point in his young NBA career. He now became the fourth-youngest player to score 5,000 points, as well as, the youngest Mavericks to ever do so.
2.) Nate Hinton played for 13 minutes in Friday’s game. He played well, scoring eight points on 3-4 shooting. His play inspired praise from Richardson, who has kept an eye on how hard Hinton works.
“He approaches the game the right way,” Richardson said. “He’s a quick study. He can pay attention, listen, and learn.”
3.) Tim Hardaway Jr. continued his incessant hot streak, scoring 20 points in just 28 minutes. Hardaway Jr. has played well in the Mavs’ recent games, and down the stretch, the Mavs will need his large offensive imprint on every game.
Dallas improves to 39-28 on the season, with one more game in hand against the Cavs on Sunday. The Mavericks then play Memphis, New Orleans, Toronto, and Minnesota to close out the regular season. It’s not exactly a gauntlet, but Dallas can’t let its foot off the gas. There is hope for the return of Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber, both are traveling with the team on its end-of-the-season road trip. And with the Mavs whole right before the playoffs, there is a belief that Dallas can still get better.
Feature image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports.