OKLAHOMA CITY — Before this season started, the Dallas Mavericks weren’t mentioned by the national media as a possible playoff contender in the rugged Western Conference.

Now, the Mavs bandwagon is so full that all four tires are flat, the engine is about to explode, and the oil and filter needs changing. That’s how high everyone is on the Mavs these days.

“I was high on Luka (Doncic) when the season started when he started putting up those numbers,” said Kendrick Perkins, an NBA analyst on ESPN’s TV show The Jump. “I wasn’t necessarily high on their team, but now I’m like, ‘This team is good, they are really good.’

“You look at the kid, (Jalen) Brunson, who comes off the bench, Seth Curry,(Dwight)  Powell, (Dorian) Finney-Smith. You have all these guys that are playing their roles.”

Jorge Sedano, another NBA analyst on The Jump, also spoke of the Mavs in glowing terms.

“They remind me a lot of this (Miami) Heat team, to be honest with you, where at the beginning of the season, they thought maybe they’re a fringe playoff team,” Sedano said. “In the East the Heat was probably a playoff team, but in the West, Dallas was a fringe playoff team, and now they are entrenched.

“I don’t think there’s any question about that. And as Perk said, they’re a second-round type team. And if they get a break or a bounce, who knows, they could potentially be in the Western Conference Finals.”

Perkins, who criticized Kristaps Porzingis earlier this season, even admitted he had to offer an olive branch to the Mavs’ power forward.

“I apologize to KP because he’s actually performing at a level that he needs to be performing at,” Perkins said. “But I’m very high on this Dallas team.

“I think this Dallas team could actually, well, I think they can go to the second round (of the playoffs) and actually make a push to the Western Conference (Finals) if a team is not careful.”

PORZINGIS’ IMPACT SLOWED BY KNEE SORENESS: At the time the Mavs acquired Kristaps Porzingis in that Jan. 31 blockbuster trade with the New York Knicks, the 7-3 power forward was rehabbing his torn left anterior cruciate ligament.

Porzingis had surgery to repair his knee on Feb. 13, 2018, and the Mavs decided to take the patient route and allow him to continue rehabbing without any pressure of thinking he was going to play last season after the trade was consummated.

“We knew that he was not going to play at all last year, which afforded him continued opportunity to do the rehab, get stronger, work on things that were going to be important to getting back on the floor, working toward durability,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “When the season started (in October) I felt that he was going to have some really good games, and then there were going to be some games that were going to be very challenging because he’s been out 18-19 months.

“As time has gone along, there’s more consistency with how he feels, how he moves, his rhythm, the familiarity with teammates and those kinds of things.”

Porzingis, who sat out Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma City due to soreness in his right knee, has made a huge impact for the Mavs. He recently completed a four-game stretch where he scored at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in games against Miami, Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia.

“I’m still finding my comfort in the offense,” Porzingis said. “Everybody around just has to be a little bit patient with me — I have to be patient with myself.

“But I feel like we’re shooting more threes and doing less of this stuff that we don’t want me to do. I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. We just got to keep working and get better.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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