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SAN FRANCISCO -- By now, most fans are aware of the relentless behind-the-scenes work that NBA players put in during the offseason -- dribbling drills, shooting contests and workouts that look more like an episode of "American Gladiators" than a sports fitness regimen. It's all on the 'gram, existing for us to consume and applaud.

What you don't often see, and, which is arguably more important in a team sport than individual skill work, is the systematic construction of trust, camaraderie and chemistry between teammates.

Case in point: We know Luka Doncic is good at basketball. We know Kyrie Irving is also good at basketball. For whatever reason, however, the Mavericks went 5-11 with both of them on the floor to finish last season. Their team, comprised of one of the most dynamic scoring backcourts in NBA history, missed the playoffs entirely.

They weren't about to let that happen again.

Doncic, Irving and coach Jason Kidd knew that basketball wasn't the issue. The team, starting with its two superstars, needed to build the intangible bond that turns average teams into good ones and, if they're fortunate, good teams into great ones.

You're seeing the results now -- a Mavericks team that has won eight of its last nine games and 12 of its last 14. None of the top seeds in the Western Conference wants anything to do with them in a playoff series. But the foundation for their recent success began over six months ago during training camp, when trips to Abu Dhabi and Madrid allowed everyone to coalesce.

"I think when we left Madrid you could see the chemistry and trust, starting with our two leaders -- Luka and Kai -- was at a high," Kidd said. "To see those two with the chemistry and trust on and off the floor at a very high level, as a coach, coaching staff, we felt very comfortable that this was going to be a good year."

A hot start was slowed by bumps in the road that came in the form of injuries and slumps. But as it stands entering Friday night's matchup with the Golden State Warriors, the Mavericks are one of the scariest No. 5 seeds we've seen in a long time, and that has everything to do with Doncic and Irving.

The superstar duo is combining to average 59 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds per game. As a result, the Mavericks have outscored opponents by over nine points per 100 possessions when they're on the floor together. Sure there's a lot of "your turn, my turn," but when the two players taking turns possess such a deadly arsenal of skills, it's just as intimidating as the world's most egalitarian offensive system.

The two stars are working together and playing off each other in a way that we didn't see last season. Irving fondly recalls the transatlantic voyage of the preseason, when he was able to see where Doncic spent his formative years as a member of Real Madrid, becoming the youngest player to ever suit up for the club in the Liga ACB at age 16.

"I think those trips are needed for teams that are new and around each other," Irving explained. "We got a chance to spend some time -- not just as a duo -- like, me and Luka -- but a lot of us spent time together as teammates, and that really helped us get to know one another off the court. Tell our stories to one another, have a lot of good laughs, have a few good drinks -- when some of us were still drinking -- and just enjoying, kind of, the NBA life as being a brother, being a peer to some of the greatest players in the world."

While the chemistry between Doncic and Irving is evident at pretty much all times, it's absolutely glaring at the end of games. Last season in clutch situations (within five points with five minutes remaining), Dallas sputtered to a 26-29 record with a mediocre net rating of minus-one. This season, with improved synergy from the superstar duo, the Mavericks are 21-9 in the clutch, with a net rating of plus-20. Not a bad turnaround.

The sight of Doncic and Irving handling the ball in crunch time is utterly terrifying to opponents, as each is capable of deftly creating for himself or others, with some of the most absurd shot-making skills we've ever seen. The duo have combined to average 15 points in the fourth quarter this season, making Dallas the only NBA team with two players in the top 10 in fourth-quarter scoring. One of the lasting memories of this NBA season -- and perhaps many to come -- is Irving's absurd left-handed, game-winning floater against the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

"Just the trust that they have with one another on both ends -- offensively and defensively. There's a lot of positive things," Kidd said of Doncic and Irving's fourth-quarter exploits. "There's a lot of trust and chemistry that are high right now. So I truly believe in this group."

But again, we've been aware of the talent for a long time. What we don't hear about, necessarily, is the leadership that Irving has shown as a sage 32-year-old -- one of the oldest players on the team. The 13-year-vet has faced his fair share of controversy in the past, but this season, he's managed to keep his focus on his team and their goal.

"Amazing guy, amazing person. Just helps -- not just me -- but everybody on the team. He keeps us together," Doncic said of Irving. "On and off the court, just an amazing guy."

With six regular-season games left, the Mavericks are exactly where they want to be. Right now they would not only avoid the Play-In Tournament, but they would also earn a first-round matchup with the sputtering Los Angeles Clippers, who have been headed in the exact opposite direction as Dallas over the past couple of months.

The Mavericks' deadline acquisitions of PJ Washington and Daniel Gafford have looked like strokes of genius. Adding a versatile floor-spacer and a devastating lob threat for Doncic and Irving to utilize has added to the team's depth. Dallas is 18-7 since the trade deadline with a top-four offense and a seventh-ranked defense. That's a championship combination.

If the Mavericks are able to ride their hot streak into the playoffs, winning a first-round series or beyond, they can thank the work they did back in October, building a cohesive brotherhood thousands of miles from the friendly confines of the Lone Star State.

"The trust and the chemistry that [Doncic and Irving] have [has] set the bar for everybody else. It definitely helped us become a team through the good and through the bad," Kidd said. "It's cool to see a team come together and be a team, especially playing at the highest level right now here in March and April."

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