Mavericks’ Bigs Bring Energy to Playoff Race

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 11: P.J. Washington #25 of the Dallas Mavericks dunks the ball against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 11, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. | Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks host the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night, looking to create more space between the two teams in the Western Conference standings and climb out of the play-in round.

Dallas has won three games in a row but lost five of its last eight and fallen to the No.8 spot in the West after engineering a season-best winning streak around the All-Star break. The Mavericks are now 2.5 games ahead of Golden State in the play-in race and just a game behind Phoenix for a top-six spot in the conference that would allow them to avoid the play-in round altogether.

The Mavericks have been a streaky team all season, but that does not appear to concern head coach Jason Kidd.

“Streaks are just part of sport,” he told the media after Monday’s win in Chicago. “You’re trying to be consistent, and that’s what we’re all fighting for — not just us but the other 29 teams in this league.”

One player who is learning quickly is rookie center Dereck Lively II. While he can be feast or famine offensively — depending on the flow of the game — he has been a consistent presence on the defensive end and brings energy to the lineup. Coming off the bench on Monday, the rookie from Duke took advantage of his chances with 22 points on 11-12 shooting.

Lively II and trade deadline acquisition Daniel Gafford have improved the center position significantly for Dallas and combined for 42 points on 20-21 shooting. Gafford was 9-9 from the field and is just seven baskets away from tying the great Wilt Chamberlain for the NBA’s record for consecutive makes from the floor.

“Gaff and D-Live played at a high level on both ends,” Kidd said Monday night. “The energy was great. When you talk about Gaff, 28 [makes] in a row is a [team] record. That’s hard to do, and he’s doing it at a high level with some special players out there.”

Gafford and Lively II have similar approaches to the game, and it’s helping the Mavericks on the floor. Both are physical, athletic players who play with a defensive mindset and incredible energy that carries over to their teammates.

“It’s always just ‘pick me up,'” Lively II explained. “Either I say, ‘You go out there. You go kill. I’ll back you up,’ or he says the same thing to me. Being able to have no dip-off whenever one of us comes out of the game makes everyone play with more confidence and more hunger.”

That hunger and energy will be put to the test as the Mavericks enter a crucial stretch of games on Wednesday,

Wednesday’s game against Golden State is the first of three consecutive games for Dallas against the top 10 in the Western Conference, which could cause some shuffling in the standings and the playoff race. Still, the Mavericks remain focused on the task at hand, especially with the Warriors’ history over the last decade.

“We’re going to focus on the Warriors and get ready for them,” Kidd explained. “They’re playing well. They’ve had some injuries, but they’re a team that’s been there before, so we’ve got to be ready.”

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