We’ve been without the NBA for just over a month. Seems a lot longer.
The regular season, suspended on March 11, would have ended on tax day, Wednesday. Of course, tax day would have been on tax day, too. But that isn’t happening, either.
So what have we missed? And what can we look forward to?
First, Maverick fans went a whole season without getting a firsthand look at Giannis Antetokounmpo. Or James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Milwaukee would have brought the Greek Freak to town on March 29. And scheduling fate didn’t bring the Rockets and the Harden-Westbrook show to Dallas until March 23 and April 7 this season.
Chris Paul also went through the 2019-20 regular season without a visit to American Airlines Center. Oklahoma City’s only game here was supposed to be the season finale.
But what was lost in this unprecedented season that was cut short by the coronavirus can’t overshadow what was accomplished by these young Mavericks.
They might not get the chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, although that remains a possibility that the league has not given up on. But until COVID-19 is under control and science ensures that sports can resume in a safe setting, there will be no resumption of the NBA season, playoffs or otherwise.
However, these Mavericks built up some playoff cred in many ways that don’t include the actual playing of postseason games.
Start with the way Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis meshed as the season went along. There were NBA observers back in the preseason that felt Porzingis still had to prove that he could be a legitimate No. 2 threat.
Those questions linger no more. Porzingis got progressively better as the season evolved and by the time everything screeched to a halt, he was playing like an All-Star.
For proof, just look closely at the dozen games after the All-Star break. These were meaningful games that impacted playoff positioning. Every time there was action, there were major implications because teams were going up or down in the standings.
And Porzingis and Doncic combined to average 50.8 points, 19.5 rebounds and 11.9 assists in that span. Porzingis also averaged three blocks.
The simple fact is that the Mavericks, paced by Doncic and Porzingis, were playing a much better brand of basketball overall as opposed to the dog days that typically happen in the month before the All-Star break.
The Mavericks were 7-5 after the break, but more importantly, they were 3-2 against playoff-bound teams. Before the break, they were 12-15 against teams that would be in the playoffs if they had started when the suspension began.
And the top two were not the only ones who were exceeding expectations. Tim Hardaway Jr. was playing his best basketball and looking every bit like a capable third option offensively.
“When we were healthy, we were really good,” owner Mark Cuban said this week. “And even after we lost DP (Dwight Powell), seeing how far Luka, KP and especially Seth (Curry) and THJ have come was fun to watch.”
And it provided a legitimate optimism about what’s possible for this group.
“I still think we were on a path to play our best basketball at the end of the season,” Cuban said. “I’m hopeful we will get to see that this summer.”
It will be hard for the Mavericks to get back to playing like they were before the season was sabotaged by COVID-19. But it will be the same for every team.
If the NBA does get back to business to finish the 2019-20 season, the Mavericks will go into it knowing they’ve made major strides, but cognizant of the work still to be done.
“Based on preseason expectations, the team has over-performed to this point,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Internally, our expectations are very high and both the players and coaching staff know we have many areas to improve.”
So while we have missed a lot in the last month, everybody believes that sports will return at some point. When it does, the future is very bright for the Mavericks.
And, that future might not be that far in the distance.