The 2013-14 season has gone more or less according to plan for the Dallas Mavericks. After a .500 season in 2012-13 resulted in Dallas' missing the postseason for the first time since 2000, the Mavericks turned their roster over more than any other team in the league last summer. While the addition of players such as Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair and Wayne Ellington didn't excite mainstream observers, analytical systems saw the Mavericks returning to playoff-caliber.
Dallas has indeed taken a step forward this season, but the postseason is not guaranteed, as the Mavericks are locked in a five-team battle for the last three playoff spots in the powerful Western Conference. If Dallas is to make its postseason return, it will have to survive a treacherous slate to finish the season. The Mavericks' remaining opponents have a collective winning percentage of .549, and 11 of their 23 games are against teams ranking in the league's top 10 in scoring margin.
Regardless of whether Dallas makes the playoffs, its plan to build one more title-contending roster around Dirk Nowitzki remains in place. However, the Mavericks will have to do some fancy maneuvering after the season, as Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion all become unrestricted free agents. The challenge will be immense: How can Dallas get better without getting worse when its chief sources of financial flexibility are the same players propping up the win total this season?
Where do the Mavericks reside on the arc of contention?
Dallas is on pace to win 48 games, which matches the high end of its range of preseason forecasts as well as what you'd expect from the Mavericks' current point differential. According to the Hollinger Playoff Odds, Dallas has a 79.4 percent shot at making the postseason, and a 1.2 percent chance of winning this season's championship. Dallas' minutes-weighted team age of 31.1 is the league's second-oldest, so you'd expect its baseline to degrade if the roster was kept intact going forward. Dallas will have to leverage its flexibility in order to put itself on an upward trajectory for the remaining few years of Nowitzki's career.