On the one hand, the Dallas Mavericks (22-28) have won two games in a row... on the other, they're still six games below .500. Those beards might get plenty shaggy people. On Monday night, the Mavs host the Atlanta Hawks (27-22), hoping to turn this home stand into a real, live winning streak.
When I looked at this slate of home games last week, I called it a last stand for Dallas. Winning all five seemed too lofty of an expectation, with games against the Warriors and the Hawks occupying the first half of the home stand. The win over Golden State Saturday night was a delightful surprise, so in my opinion, if the Mavs win tonight, they should be able to fend off the Kings and Orlando. Five in a row is a real possibility for the first time this year.
Obviously, to get to that point they need to beat the Hawks. After finishing 2012 with a 19-10 record, Atlanta has managed just eight wins in it's past 20 games, including going 1-8 on their last nine road games.
The match up I'm most interested in is Darren Collison on Jeff Teague. The fourth year guard out of Wake Forest has risen to the occasion since he's finally been given starter minutes. Though it's a small sample size, through four games in February, Teague is averaging nearly 21 points on 57% shooting and has been dishing out 8.5 assists per game. Collison is coming off a night where he had 18 points on nine shots while handing out eight assists. How this pairing plays out might well decide the game.
O.J. Mayo will be matched up against dead eye shooter Kyle Korver. Mayo's had a series of excellent games in February, and he can easily exploit Korver on defense if he presses the issue. Where I'm concerned is Mayo's defense. Korver is tall and has ridiculous range; Mayo cannot lose Korver or the Hawks will make Dallas pay.
The Josh Smith Shawn Marion pairing will also be big for Dallas. Smith is capable of putting together ludicrous stat lines, but if Dallas can force him to work on defense (I expect he'll see time on both Marion and Dirk), perhaps it can get him out of any offensive rhythm. Marion's been the Dallas MVP this season, so I'm sure we'll see a similar 16 point, 8 rebound effort from him.
Hopefully Dirk can find his shot after a dreadful 3 of 12 from the floor against the Warriors. He'll spend time being guarded by a host of Hawks, including Smith, Al Horford, Anthony Tolliver, Ivan Johnson, and maybe even Zaza Pachulia. Defensively, Dirk will need to play solid help defense and keep his man off the offensive glass.
At center, Dallas will try a variety of defenders on the talented Al Horford. Expect Bernard James and Elton Brand to see the majority of the minutes (sorry Brandan Wright, you weigh 145 pounds, Horford will own you). James will look to keep Horford from establishing himself early, while Brand will come off the bench looking to give Dallas help on both ends of the floor. Please note I've heard nothing about Chris Kaman, who as of three days ago was not cleared to play yet due to his concussion.
In a battle of the benches, Dallas has the upper hand. Without off season acquisition Lou Williams, who was lost for the year with an ACL tear, the main bench contributors are Devin Harris and Ivan Johnson. While Harris seems to enjoy sticking it to the team that traded him away, I expect the Mavericks to keep the pressure on from the opening tip. Dallas may not have the most talented starting five in the league, but it's depth and options off the bench help close that gap.
Dallas has a good thing going and hopefully they can pull out a win. This will be an excellent test as we head into All Star break.