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Mavs Donuts: Dallas 'Magic Number' to Avoid Play-In; Can Luka Doncic Win MVP?

DallasBasketball.com lists 12 of the biggest NBA storylines, including relevant Dallas Mavericks news and analysis.

For the most part, the 2021-22 NBA regular season has been a fun one for the Dallas Mavericks, who have a 45-28 record with just nine games remaining. Although things are trending in the right direction for the Mavs over the last few days, though, the playoff seeding order in the Western Conference is still far from being set.

In today's batch of Mavs Donuts, we preview the Mavs' big matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road, discuss analyst Nick Wright making a very bold prediction for Dallas, Luka Doncic's MVP chances, the return of the Kobe-Nike partnership, and much, much more! Dig in!

Donut 1: Mavs Final Showdown With Wolves

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The Mavs will complete their regular-season series with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night at Target Center. Although it's unlikely that the Wolves will pass up the Mavs in the standings at this point, being that they're four games back in the loss column with nine game to go, nothing is finalized yet.

A win for the Mavs would give them a five-game cushion in the loss column over the Wolves plus the regular-season series tiebreaker. After missing the game against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, Luka Doncic is expected to be back in action for this one. Dallas beat Minnesota 110-108 on Monday night despite Doncic only scoring 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting from the field.

Donut 2: Finney-Smith Tells His Team to ‘Wake Up’

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With Luka Doncic sidelined, the Dallas Mavericks knew they wouldn't be able to look past a young and energetic Houston Rockets team on Wednesday if they wanted to come out on top. Dallas came out and took care of business, winning the game 110-91 and the regular season series vs. Houston 4-0.

Although the final score was a blow out, the Mavs struggled in the first half and even trailed the Rockets at halftime. That's when Dorian Finney-Smith stepped up and motivated his team with his voice in the locker room.

“(Finney-Smith) is a man of few words, so when he speaks he’s holding a lot of weight to that,” Jalen Brunson said of Finney-Smith's halftime motivation. “He basically was just telling us to wake up."

Donut 3: Mavs Winning a Playoff Series? How About Going to the Finals Instead?

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Sitting at 45-28 in the Western Conference, Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are threatening to overtake the Utah Jazz for home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs - something Dallas hasn’t experienced since the 2011 season.

On the latest episode of What’s Wright? With Nick Wright, though, Nick Wright predicted something a lot bigger for the Mavs than merely getting home-court in a first-round series.

“Right now, I’m telling you, I don’t think [the] Phoenix [Suns] make it out of round two,” said Wright. “Because … I think the team they play in Round 2 is the team that’s going to go to the Finals. I think this is the Dallas Mavericks’ year — not to win the title, but to get to the Finals.”

We admire the confidence that Mr. Wright has in the Mavs, but hopefully Dallas can just get out of round one first – something it hasn't done in over a decade – then maybe we can start looking forward to those bigger and better things.

Donut 4: Will Maxi Kleber Ever Break Out of His Funk?

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If the Mavs want a better chance at making a deep playoff run, then Maxi Kleber, who is supposed to be a hybrid big man, needs to rediscover his shooting stroke and confidence in these final nine regular-season games.

Over his last 12 games, Kleber is shooting just 17-of-65 (26.2 percent) from the field and 6-of-41 (14.6 percent) from 3-point range. As painful as those numbers look on paper, it’s been even more painful to watch Kleber go through these struggles in real time. However, his coach believes he'll turn the corner soon.

“He has to [keep taking the shots],” said coach Jason Kidd. “He's taking them, and they're going to fall for him. When they do, it's just going to make the offense that much easier."

Donut 5: Mavs 'Magic Number' to Avoid Play-In

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Dorian Finney-Smith, Dallas Mavericks
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If you're a Mavs fan, you have to be happy with what other teams have done to help Dallas out in the standings lately. The Phoenix Suns defeated the Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets this week, while the Utah Jazz lost to the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics.

Dallas' magic number to avoid the Play-In Tournament – which can be any combination of Mavs wins or Wolves losses – is six. For those keeping score at home, the Mavs could cut that number down to four with a win in Minnesota tonight.

Donut 6: Hardaway Jr. Injury Update

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As much as the Mavs would love to get Tim Hardaway Jr. back into the fold for the postseason after he suffered a foot injury in January that required surgery, it isn't looking like that outcome is in the cards.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said Tuesday that Hardaway Jr. is "a ways away" and he doubts the veteran shooting guard will be available during the playoffs. However, Hardaway Jr. believes he could return in the next month or so if the Mavs make a deep postseason run.

Donut 7: On This Day – Keep Trusting the Process, Baby!

When people associate the word "tanking" with the Philadelphia 76ers, they'd most-likely think of the "Trust the Process" era from 2013-2017. But believe it or not, the Sixers indeed had a season that was worse than their 10-72 record in 2016.

On March 25, 1973, the Sixers completed their season with a 9-73 record, which is still the worst mark in NBA history. 

Donut 8: On This Day – Hands in the Cookie Jar

On March 25, 1978, the Phoenix Suns set the NBA record for most steals in a single season with 1,059. Ron Lee led Phoenix with 225 steals of his own.

To add some more context to just how impressive that is, the Dallas Mavericks this season, who have been fantastic defensively, only have 502 steals as a team with nine games remaining. Dorian Finney-Smith leads the Mavs with 80 steals.

Donut 9: Kobe X Nike Re-Up

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In what could go down as possibly the coolest sports news of 2022, Vanessa Bryant — wife of the late, great Kobe Bryant — announced on her Instagram account that the Kobe Bryant Estate and Nike reached an agreement to continue their partnership.

“We’re excited to announce our partnership with Nike is going to continue!,” Bryant wrote. “I know this is an inspiring moment for my husband and daughter's global fans, and I am very appreciative of each and every one of you!”

Per the new agreement, Nike will be donating 100 percent of net proceeds from Gianna Bryant's shoes to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation. The two sides are also expected to build a youth basketball center in Southern California as well.

Donut 10: Could Luka Doncic Win MVP?

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Although big men Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid have been viewed as the MVP front-runners, Luka Doncic has played well enough this season – especially since the calendar flipped to 2022 – to be seriously considered as well.

Not only does Doncic have the Mavs in prime position to steal home-court advantage away from the Jazz, but he also has two head-to-head wins against Jokic (2-1) and one against Embiid (1-1). Given that the Mavs have the same record as the Sixers and a better record than the Nuggets, why in the world would Doncic not have a legitimate chance of winning?

Regardless of where Doncic ends up in the MVP voting, he's likely to make his third-consecutive All-NBA First Team appearance.

Donut 11: Pre-Playoffs Basketball Starts This Weekend

This is going to a massive weekend of Dallas Mavericks basketball with many playoff implications. We've already talked about the Mavs' game against the Wolves tonight and how important that one will be, but Dallas also plays Utah at American Airlines Center on Sunday night as well. The Mavs could take full control of the fourth-seed if they can buckle down and grind out a few more hard-fought wins.

The postseason might be nearly three weeks away, but extremely important pre-playoff basketball starts for the Mavs this weekend... as if it hadn't already started.

Donut 12: The Final Word

"Yeah, we'll take it," said Jason Kidd when asked about the Mavs receiving help in the standings by other teams losing on Wednesday night.

"Maybe I need a birthday more often. But no, again, we're not scoreboard watching too early. We've got to take care of ourselves, and if we do that, we're going to accomplish one goal and that's to make it to the playoffs. We can't dictate who we are going to play. We have to worry about ourselves."