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Dark Horses for the Return of the NBA

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Dark Horses for the Return of the NBA
Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AFP

We take a look at the dark horses for the return of the NBA regular season. These teams might not be favorites to win the NBA title but they might have the ability to knock off some of the favorites. After so much time off, it feels like this year’s edition of the playoffs could have more upsets than usual.

Dallas Mavericks Have Pieces to Make Noise

The Dallas Mavericks sit comfortably in 7th place in the western conference standings with a 7 game lead over Memphis in 8th. If the playoffs were to start today, they would face the Clippers in the first round. Fortunately for them, they will get a chance to try and move up in the standings. They are only 1.5 games behind both Houston and Oklahoma City. They’re also only 2.5 games behind 4th placed Utah. If the Dallas Mavericks can avoid the Clippers in the first round, I see them as a dark horse that can definitely make noise in the playoffs.

First of all, if you have an MVP candidate on your team, you’re already in a position to do big things in the playoffs. The NBA is a league where in order to be called a superstar, you need to deliver in the playoffs. Luka Doncic plays like a superstar and I think that he will be very excited to show the basketball world exactly how talented he is.

How good has Luka Doncic been in his second season? He is averaging more points, rebounds and assists than LeBron James did in his second season at the same age. There really isn’t a better comparison than that. He is one of the best players in the league already and I think if he can get Kristaps Porzingis playing up to his potential, the Mavs have a team that can send one of the top seeds home early. Porzingis is averaging 19.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while being inconsistent at best. The fact that he can put up those types of numbers while not playing his best basketball is a testament to Porzingis’ talent.

The Mavs aren’t just a two-man show. Their roster is full of guys that can get you baskets and they also have one of the best coaches in the NBA in Rick Carlisle. All of that is why they are ranked number 1 in the league offensive efficiency. They have made the second-most threes in the league this season while also coming in 5th in rebounds per game. These guys also don’t turn the ball over which is no surprise for such a well-coached team. All in all, the Mavs have a lot of dark horse potential at +2000 to win the west at BetOnline and other sportsbooks. They just need to take care of business and move up in the standings before the playoffs start to avoid the Lakers and Clippers in the first round and hope one of them trips up.

Chris Paul #3 and Danilo Gallinari #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFP

Thunder Will Be a Tough Matchup for Anyone

When the Thunder traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul, most people thought they would be a lottery team. Instead, Chris Paul made the All Star team again despite everyone thinking that he was done as a top-level player. Speaking of players that a lot of people thought were done, Dennis Schroder has been a revelation for the Thunder.

He had a subpar year last season but has bounced back in what has to be a 6th Man of The Year season for him. At 19 points per game, he is averaging more than his All Star teammate (Paul averages 17.7), and most importantly, he’s been doing it efficiently. That was always the weakest part Schroeder’s game but he seems to be maturing in this role in Oklahoma City. Danilo Gallinari is another player that many people had doubts about but he’s been terrific for the Thunder. He’s averaging 19.2 per game and shooting 41% from three.

Finally, we have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who looks like a future All Star. The 6’5-point guard has been playing the shooting guard position next to Chris Paul in his second season in the league and he has not disappointed. He leads the team in scoring and free throws made, is second in rebounds and third in assists. He’s also shooting the same field goal percentage he did as a rookie even though his shots per game have gone up from 8.7 to 14.8.

This is a unique group of players the Thunder have assembled and they have the ability to cause opponents all sorts of problems. Their obvious weakness is shooting three’s where they rank near the bottom of the league at 28th in makes. They make up for that by getting to the free throw line where they rank 4th in the league in makes. I don’t know if the Thunder can go as far as Dallas in the playoffs but I do think they can beat some of the higher seeds in the right situation.

Of all the teams in playoff spots right now, the Thunder only have losing records against the Lakers (0-3) and Clippers (1-2). They’ve managed a split with everyone else and have a winning record (2-1) against Houston. If they’re playing up to the potential they’ve shown during the regular season, don’t be surprised if the Thunder who are +10000 over at Heritage to win the title send one of the higher seeds home early.