Go back to Oct. 23, when the Mavericks opened this season with a 108-100 win over Washington.
If somebody had told you then the Mavericks would go into the All-Star break with a 33-22 record, on pace to win 49 games and solidly in the playoff mix, everybody would have signed up for that deal in a heartbeat, right?
Remember, the Mavericks were basing their season on a 20-year-old second-year player, who admittedly was a flat-out phenom as a teenaged rookie last season. And they had a 7-3 newcomer who hadn’t played competitive basketball in 20 months.
OK, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were viewed then as star-level players. But now Doncic has completely surpassed that, crossing into superstardom, legit MVP candidate and All-Star starter this weekend. Porzingis has proven he’s healthy now and capable of his own brand of stardom.
But more than three months ago, nobody knew for sure that all of this was coming.
“I would say it went great,” Doncic said of the first two-thirds of the season. “Obviously, there’s games we should have won. But we are a young team. We’re going to get experience by losing those games. It’s a long run.”
Even the most optimistic of analysts only had the Mavericks as a borderline playoff team in their best-case scenarios before the season.
Now, they are battling Oklahoma City and Houston for the fifth, sixth and seventh seeds in the Western Conference.
As coach Rick Carlisle said before everybody scattered for the All-Star break, the Mavericks are taking nothing for granted. They have been a .500 team since mid-December and that pace won’t get them anywhere during the stretch drive that starts next week.
The playoffs aren’t a given until you are mathematically qualified.
However, what the Mavericks have done is survived a tough stretch of the schedule that coincided with injuries that kept Doncic and Porzingis from playing together for 21 games during a 30-game stretch.
The Mavericks feasted on a soft early schedule, which was a good thing.
But their latest game, a 130-111 win over Sacramento on Wednesday, was proof that they have the chops to be a tough out when the playoffs roll around.
Porzingis and Doncic combined for 60 points in that game. And it was the way they went about their business that fosters great hope.
Porzingis initiated the offense at times from the free-throw line. He popped to the 3-point line occasionally, rolled to the basket other times. Doncic was getting to the paint, then took advantage of space on the perimeter for the 3-ball.
Just good, solid, unpredictable offense.
“The playmaking, the communication and the eye contact between them throughout the game offensively was fantastic,” Carlisle said. “KP mixed rolls, pops. Luka was driving, stepping back. And they were playing great off each other. That’s a great thing to see, particularly headed into the break.”
The Mavericks have earned their weeklong pause going into the break. They have hovered around 10 games over .500 since breaking out of the gate 16-6.
They haven’t lost more than two games in a row all season. They are very good at learning from and bouncing back from ugly losses. Case in point is Monday’s debacle against Utah. They were embarrassed at American Airlines Center.
Then, they came back with a dominant showing against the Kings, who had won six of their previous nine games.
All in all, this has turned out to be an entertaining season – equal parts exhilarating and hopeful, perplexing and exasperating.
That’s what makes it fun.
And what the Mavericks and their fans have to look forward to is very meaningful games come March, April and, with a little luck, beyond.