The Dallas Mavericks lost to the Phoenix Suns last night, because of course. Since January 5, 2017—a full half decade’s worth of meetings—the Mavericks are 4-16 against the Suns. Last night’s 109-101 loss, which Dallas led most of the game, only to get blown out 35-19 in the fourth quarter, marks the team’s ninth straight loss to Phoenix. This is the new order of things: our city’s basketball team getting stomped by their nearest NBA neighbor to the west, who have still not explained why their mascot is a gorilla (which, in fairness, is great) or acknowledged that Shawn Marion, not Steve Nash, was the real lynchpin of their machine in the early aughts.
Five years ago, this was less a problem than a curiosity. Neither team was particularly good. Phoenix were lottery mainstays, while Dallas bottomed out in 2017 and 2018, so these contests amounted to one afterthought running it up on another, precious little in the way of actual stakes.
But then these teams improved—well, one much more so than the other. The Mavericks are playing their best basketball of this season, and a strong case could be made that this is their best basketball since the 2020 NBA bubble. Best of all, as our Iztok Franko wrote on Wednesday, a lot of this seems sustainable. There’s plenty of reason for optimism here, even if my 77 Minutes in Heaven co-host, Tim Cato, and I believe this team should strongly consider making a big move before the NBA trade deadline.
The issue is that Phoenix are beyond good. They’re the best team in the NBA, by record—the Suns are the only team remaining with single-digit losses—and performance, with the league’s sixth-best offense, second-best defense, and best net rating (the gap between the two). Last year marked the Suns’ first playoff appearance in 11 years; it ended with them two wins shy of winning the NBA Finals. This season, they’re the midseason favorite to finish the job.
Which makes for a very daunting mountain to climb and, as recent history continues to demonstrate, one the Mavericks currently don’t seem equipped to conquer in a seven-game playoff series.
That is a big step, of course, and one that is many months away at the absolute soonest. Whether it’s this postseason—the soonest these teams can play again—or next regular season, let’s start with one game. Just one. That’s less a mountain than a steep hill, which is enough given the status quo.
I posited this on Twitter last night:
While I’m probably wrong—it’s gonna be like 95 percent of our time in the metaverse—it doesn’t necessarily feel wrong in the here and now, 14ish hours removed from yet another vivisection by Chris Paul.
So, one win. And then maybe another. Because it’s hard to imagine any path toward a Luka Doncic NBA title in Dallas not running through the Suns sometime in the next several years. And it’d be a lot easier to imagine the Mavericks getting out unscathed if they could just break that vexing losing streak.