sportsMavericks

Luka Doncic is an MVP favorite. Why are the Mavs projected to make the play-in tournament?

After failing to achieve their No. 1 offseason goal, the Mavericks face long Western Conference projections.

The NBA’s slow period of the offseason is here, and the Dallas Mavericks are acting accordingly.

Owner Mark Cuban and general manager Nico Harrison appeared at Dorian Finney-Smith’s hometown charity gala last week, for example, while Luka Doncic is enjoying a final break before reporting back to Slovenian national team workouts and Josh Green is back home in Australia for a hybrid visit of training and sightseeing.

So, this is clear: Players, coaches and executives aren’t wasting their summer breaks worrying about Western Conference projections.

But we here at The Dallas Morning News never stop thinking about their present outlook and future options.

A scroll through several betting projections show a widespread expectation — at least from oddsmakers — that Dallas will fall short this upcoming season of its 2021-22 Western Conference finals run.

Since the free-agency flurry of early July gave way to the NBA offseason lull, FanDuel’s sportsbook has given the Mavericks the seventh-best odds to win the Western Conference, essentially predicting Dallas will face the end-of-season play-in tournament rather than secure a top-six guaranteed playoff spot.

Is that fair?

Here’s a breakdown of FanDuel’s current odds among Western Conference contenders and analysis for why the order makes sense — or doesn’t.

1. Golden State Warriors (+320 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 53-29 (3rd)

Playoff finish: Won the NBA Finals

As much of a “duh” as this list warrants.

With Finals MVP Steph Curry and lead facilitator Draymond Green back atop the NBA world, third star Klay Thompson entering the season healthy for the first time in years and Andrew Wiggins leading a young, talented pipeline, Golden State has earned and deserves its standing atop the West entering next season.

The Mavericks, who felt they missed some opportunities to make their five-game conference finals loss to the Warriors more competitive in late May, should agree.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (+340 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 42-40 (8th)

Playoff finish: Lost two play-in tournament games

Most expect Kawhi Leonard to return at full strength after missing all of last season with a partially torn right ACL. If co-star Paul George remains healthy and Los Angeles’ deep stable of 3-and-D wing options pans out, the Clippers should surge more like the title favorites who beat the Mavericks in the first round of the 2020 and 2021 playoffs, not the play-in-struggle squad of last season.

3. Phoenix Suns (+450 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 64-18 (1st)

Playoff finish: Lost in the second round (seven games) to the Mavericks

This is where the Mavericks-centric outlook becomes fuzzy.

Phoenix has dominated the Mavericks in recent regular seasons, but Dallas won four of five to close the second-round series in May and prompt many questions about the Suns’ fortitude, championship potential and cohesion.

Perhaps the No. 3 ranking in FanDuel’s odds reflects more the Suns’ regular-season successes and status as a Kevin Durant trade option, but Chris Paul’s significant struggles in the back half of the Mavericks series and DeAndre Ayton’s new contract after restricted free agency drama leave both variables in question.

4. Los Angeles Lakers (+800 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 33-49 (10th)

Playoff finish: Missed the play-in tournament entirely

This ranking isn’t worth much attention now because the likelihood of the Lakers returning to contention for another title — much less home-court advantage in the first round of the West playoffs — hinges on more changes to their roster, not the potential with their current crop.

Until Los Angeles pulls off a trade for Kyrie Irving or finds another avenue to part with Russell Westbrook, consider the Mavericks a near-lock to compile a better season than the Lakers.

5. Denver Nuggets (+1000 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 48-34 (5th)

Playoff finish: Lost in the first round (five games) to the Warriors

The returns of guard Jamal Murray and forward Michael Porter Jr. from extended injury absences is likely to boost the Nuggets starting rotation around two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.

But remember this: The other Balkan Brother has had the upper hand in recent matchups. Slovenian Doncic and the Mavericks have beaten good friend Serbian Jokic and the Nuggets in six of the last nine regular season meetings over the last three seasons — an important distinction for seeding and tiebreak situations.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (+1100 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 56-26 (2nd)

Playoff finish: Lost in the second round (six games) to the Warriors

The Grizzlies emerged as the trash-talking, fearless darlings of the West last season while compiling a record better than all teams but the Suns.

But can superstar Ja Morant remain healthy and durable after missing 25 games in the regular season and the last three of the playoffs? If not, will Memphis again manage a 20-5 record in his absence?

The Mavericks are 5-1 against the Grizzlies when Doncic and Morant both play.

7. Dallas Mavericks (+1200 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 52-30 (4th)

Playoff finish: Lost in the conference finals (five games) to the Warriors

No surprise the Mavericks slid in national expectations after failing to achieve their No. 1 offseason goal — re-signing Jalen Brunson — this summer.

But Dallas still upgraded its frontcourt with Christian Wood (trade) and JaVale McGee (free agency) to improve rebounding and rim protection after the Warriors tormented their no-choice-but-to-play-small-ball lineups in the playoffs.

Should Doncic start the year in top shape to snap a pattern of lax offseason habits, watch for the Mavericks to avoid another slow start and contend for home-court seeding down the stretch — better than FanDuel lists them now.

Oddsmakers seem to realize that.

FanDuel currently lists Doncic as the MVP favorite (+460), ahead of last season’s top MVP contenders in Joel Embiid (+550), Giannis Antetokounmpo (+650) and Jokic (+1000).

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (+1500 to win the West)

2021-22 record (West seed): 46-36 (7th)

Playoff finish: Lost in the first round (six games) to the Grizzlies

Many are uncertain how the handsomely paid, draft-capital-infused partnership of centers Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert will pan out, but no doubt the Mavericks and their fans will have plenty of emotion during this season’s matchups.

Doncic hasn’t disguised his distaste for Gobert — through national team meetings and feisty head-to-head battles — and Towns did little to endear himself to Dallas when he overlooked Dirk Nowitzki in declaring himself the “greatest big man shooter” of all time.

The rest of FanDuel’s 2022-23 Western Conference projections

RankTeamOdds
9.New Orleans Pelicans+2700
10.Portland Trail Blazers+6500
11.Utah Jazz+12000
12.Sacramento Kings+180000
13.Oklahoma City Thunder+240000
14.San Antonio Spurs+240000
15.Houston Rockets+240000

FanDuel’s top-10 odds for 2022-23 MVP

PlayerTeamOdds
Luka DoncicDallas Mavericks+460
Joel EmbiidPhiladelphia 76ers+550
Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks+650
Nikola JokicDenver Nuggets+1000
Kevin DurantBrooklyn Nets+1200
Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors+1300
Jayson TatumBoston Celtics+1400
Ja MorantMemphis Grizzlies+1500
Kawhi LeonardLos Angeles Clippers+2200
LeBron JamesLos Angeles Lakers+2400

Find more Mavericks coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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