Starting on Saturday night, the Mavericks will embark on their longest road trip of the season. Out of the six games (Utah, Phoenix, both Los Angeles Teams, Golden State and Portland), four of the game will pit the Mavericks against teams who will either be in the playoffs or are still in the hunt for the remaining five Western Conference playoff spots. As we noted, it has been a while since the Mavs have been on this kind of road trip. While they are on the road, Dallas will have a chance to reverse the negative trend that has come along the way. The Mavericks are win-less in their last six games versus teams in the Western Conference that would make the playoffs if they started today. "We haven't beaten any of the top teams in a while," said Dirk Nowitzki. "We've got to pick it up."
The Mavericks will have a chance to hit the ground running as they match up against the Utah Jazz on Saturday night. The Mavericks will look to sweep a four-game season series with the Jazz for the first time in franchise history with a win at Utah. The Mavericks haven’t swept a season series with the Jazz since 2004-05, when they went 3-0 against Utah in the regular season. Dallas snapped a five-game losing streak in Salt Lake City with a 93-81 win on Dec. 3. The Jazz are now 55-16 all-time against the Mavericks in Utah.
Building the positive momentum will not be easy based on the competition, but Rick Carlisle relishes the opportunity that is being presented with trek into the "wild blue yonder" as the coach described it this week. "To become really playoff ready there are some real positives to playing a tough schedule and a tough road schedule,'' Carlisle said. "Those are the hardest conditions to play under in the playoffs, and a lot of teams we're playing are playoff teams or playoff-caliber teams. So it's an opportunity for us.''
The wins and losses collected during the road trip will matter, but it will be just as important to determine how the team bonds together during their travels on the road. Over the course of the season, the players and members of the coaching staff have said that this team has never been this close as a group and that the chemistry is stronger than ever. There will not be the distractions of home life; it will just be the guys working on trying to take their game up a new level. "Nothing against the wife and the kids, but this is time for us to get some chemistry back and get our swagger back and build up some confidence on the road," Jason Terry said. "We play well on the road. This is going to do good for our confidence." That level of chemistry and confidence must reach new heights during this critical stretch of the season in order to build momentum as they head into the playoffs.
As the regular season winds down, the doubt starts to rise within the fan base and members of the local and national media as they are tentative to get their hopes up based on previous experiences in the playoffs. There is little to no faith that this edition of the Dallas Mavericks is truly different. The Mavericks should make note of the doubters and use that to unite the team. They don't need to go out with the goal of trying to win people over. They just need to use that doubt as bulletin board material to help fuel the fire. There is no shame in trying to use that as a motivational tool. If it can help build the competitive juices and add more edge, you might as well run with it. The road trip should be a galvanizing experience and really create a bunker mentality for this team. No one should underestimate the power of the "Us against the world" mentality. "This is an opportunity when you go on the road to get closer, it has to be a necessity for us to be successful," Carlisle said. "The travel is volatile, the trip is long and we're a family going out there trying to hold our ground."
In order to win at the highest level, they will need to be together as a team and play the brand of basketball that had them beat the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and other elite teams earlier in the season. They will need to do that and do it while they are on the road. "It’s one of the toughest road trips I’ve been a part of in this league," Dirk Nowitzki said. "It’s long, three back-to-backs, four games in five nights. It’s going to be tough, but we’re a good road team. We’re not scared to play on the road. We’ve won big games on the road before. We’re going to go out there, play hard and try to have some fun...I think we’re ready." It's time to find out if they're truly ready.
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