As we ride out the second half of January, the Mavericks have a real chance to gain ground in the Western Conference play off hunt. Though a brief look at the standings may indicate otherwise, it's safe to assume the teams in the first six slots of the West (San Antonio, Portland, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, and Houston) are fairly likely to stay in those six slots, it's just a matter of what the final order it.
The final two spots are open to the following squads: Dallas, Phoenix, Minnesota, Denver, and a hard charging Memphis squad. But for the moment, the Mavericks actually sit in the driver seat of this entire discussion. The Clippers are bound to lose some ground without Chris Paul the next few weeks, and the Suns are already dealing with the loss of Eric Bledsoe by losing some close games. Denver is still figuring out who they are and Minnesota seems poised to kill bad teams and lose close games all season. Dallas has a good chance to hang on during this wild ride of a season.
The schedule for Dallas in January is remarkably favorable, once injuries and a lack of back to backs are factored in. Let's look at each game and give it a difficulty level: Easy, Medium, Hard
Wed. Jan 15th @ Clippers - Medium - This game is decidedly a toss up, in my mind. The Clippers have won 3 of their last 4 but have played a cake walk of a schedule, and their only loss was to San Antonio the day after losing Paul to injury. In terms of talent and match ups, the Mavericks are out matched, even without Paul, but the Clippers haven't shown great defensive focus despite having the roster to be excellent in this area. If Dallas can get out to a good scoring start similar to the match up two weeks ago, I think they could steal one in Los Angeles.
Fri. Jan 17th @ Suns - Medium - Of all the games in January, this game will be the biggest measuring stick. Even without Bledsoe, the Suns are capable of putting up a ton of points. Wiith Dirk, Jose Calderon, and Ellis all being net negatives defensively, the Suns are capable of lighting Dallas up from beyond the arc. Whether or not Shawn Marion plays will be big as well. I simply don't think Dallas matches up very well with the Suns, so I still think this is a loss, though it would be nice if Dallas could surprise me.
Sat. Jan 18th vs Blazers - Hard - This is the latter half of the only back to back the remainder of January. The Mavericks will take the floor against of the best in the West about 20 hours after their previous game ends. I think the Mavs give the Blazers problems, but I also expect Portland to be out for blood after the way the last game between these two ended (Monta game winner!).
Mon. Jan 20th @ Cavaliers - Easy - Cleveland is not a good basketball team. They don't pass well. They don't defend well. They don't have an answer for Dirk. This has the potential to be a trap game for Dallas if they aren't awake, but I expect Dallas to put away the dreadful Cavs.
Wed. Jan 22nd @ Raptors - Medium - Toronto ran the Mavs off the floor in the first match up. I expect Dallas to be better prepared this time but this Toronto team is good. They provide a lot of match up problems for the Mavericks but Dallas is still a veteran team with talent. This game could easily tilt into the Hard column if Shawn Marion isn't back by this point.
Fri. Jan 24 @ Nets - Easy - This game depends on a couple of things: 1.) The Maverick focus on the final night of a three game road trip and 2.) Whether or not Deron Williams is playing. If Williams is playing this game is much more difficult, but the Mavericks are so good offensively they should be able to bury the Nets. I don't care how "good" Brooklyn has been recently, the East is a tire fire and I don't care about any team that isn't Indiana or Miami
Sun. Jan 26th vs Pistons - Easy - The Pistons are an oddly constructed bad basketball team. Dallas should win unless something stupid happens, which is always a possibility.
Wed. Jan 29th vs Rockets - Medium - This game could very well be in the Hard catagory, but Dallas plays Houston well mainly because they don't have an answer for Dirk. Of course, the Mavericks don't have an answer for James Harden or Dwight Howard, but the Rockets play an unappealing brand of basketball and sometimes get lost in their own talent. Dallas has a chance here with two days to rest as well.
Fri. Jan 31st vs Kings - Easy - The Kings ran Dallas off the court the last time they played, but Dallas is the better basketball team. Focus, home cooking, and a better use of the center position (not starting DeJuan Blair on Cousins) should help Dallas get off to a better start. This is a game the Mavs can't afford to lose.
I still have a lot of trepidation about this Maverick squad. There are too many holes to feel super confident. Yet the West feels like a war of attrition at this point so Dallas may simply outlast everyone else. I think a 6-3 outcome of these next 9 games is a high goal. 5-4 would be acceptable, but it would also mean treading water, which is not what Dallas is going for.