The Dallas Mavericks season is closing in, with Luka Doncic and Co. scheduled for 30 televised games. Some key matchups include an opening night Western Conference semifinals rematch with the Phoenix Suns, a Christmas Day showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers and Jalen Brunson's New York Knicks on Dec. 27.
Last season, Dallas got off to a fast start with a 6-3 record. The team's best stretch came during January when it went 11-4 and had a six-game winning streak.
The team's toughest break came after Thanksgiving, as the Mavs went 5-10. In December, Dallas had three two-game losing streaks, after losing Luka Doncic to injuries and COVID.
Amidst all the noise, Dallas finished the season with 52 wins and advanced to the West finals for the first time since 2011.
Can Dallas replicate its level of success or will the loss of Brunson take its toll?
Bleacher Report's Joseph Zucker predicted the latter, projecting Dallas to finish with a 47-35 record.
"Losing Jalen Brunson was bad enough for the Mavs," wrote Zucker. "Replicating a fourth-place finish in 2021-2022 won't be easy for head coach Jason Kidd."
Brunson averaged 21.6 points in the playoffs and was the team's second-leading scorer. Against the Utah Jazz, he scored 27.8 points and played a pivotal role in helping Dallas overcome its first-round woes.
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Dallas has yet to replace Brunson, as the team is limited being over the cap.
With Brunson gone, Doncic will be expected to carry even more of the workload.
"Dallas might have to lean even more on Doncic, who's already on pace to through his first four years to have the highest usage rate," wrote Zucker.
But can a healthy Doncic take his game to the next level?
This offseason, Luka looks in shape, as he has been working out with Slovenian trainer Anze Macek.
On Wednesday the new-look Doncic dropped in 34 points and nine assists, helping Slovenia beat Serbia in a friendly before Eurobasket 2022.
"Still, it remains to be seen whether Doncic performing at an MVP type level for a full season will be enough for the Mavs in 2022-2023," wrote Zucker. "Because Doncic is so good, you can't take away another 50-win season off the table."
Aside from Luka, Dallas will rely on its new acquisitions of Christian Wood and Javale McGee. With the season two months away, Mavs fans can catch Doncic on Aug. 25 as Slovenia takes on Estonia in a friendly.