Last month, when I took a look at the slate of games in February, I hoped that the Mavericks would go 8-4. It was a relatively easy month, a chance to give themselves some room for error in the final month and a half of the season. They finished 9-3, just ahead of my predictions.
Right now, I'm just delighted with how the team is playing. Outside of a terrible loss on the road in Charlotte and a three minute stretch against Miami where Shawn Marion lost his mind, Dallas had a nearly perfect month. They're in the driver's seat for one of the final three playoff spots. Now, it's time to look ahead to March and I'll give each game a difficulty level of Easy, Medium, or Hard (and in a few cases, Very Hard).
Sunday, March 2nd at San Antonio - Hard - A road game against one of the few teams in the league that seems to have the Mavericks' number this season. Tony Parker might be out but the return of Kawhi Leonard gives the Spurs another weapon. With the way Dallas has been rebounding and playing defense as of late, it's possible they put up a better fight than they have in the previous two losses.
Wednesday, March 5th at Denver - Medium - This game could easily be ranked as Easy, considering how terrible the Nuggets have been the last month. But the Nuggets handled Dallas TWICE in back to back games in November. I expect Dallas to win, since this is a different team now, but this is not a game the Mavericks can afford to overlook.
Friday, March 7th vs Portland - Hard - LaMarcus Aldridge should be back from injury by this game, upping the difficulty. Though the Mavericks are 1-1 vs the Blazers this year, the victory took a fantastic game winner from Monta Ellis. The Blazers are one of the few teams in the league capable of putting up even more points than Dallas. That this game is in Dallas helps a bit, but there's a good chance this is a loss.
Sunday, March 9th vs Indiana - Very Hard - Last month, I assumed when Dallas played the Pacers on the second night of a back to back that it would be a clear schedule loss. Instead, they beat Indiana at their own game. I expect the Pacers to be out for blood this game. Then again, on any given Sunday...
Tuesday, March 12th at Golden State - Medium - This game is an important measuring stick for how Dallas is playing by this point in the month. After a number of challenging games, playing an opponent of about equal talent and trouble will reveal a lot about this team. I think they're better than Golden State. Despite this being a road game, I think they'll win.
Wednesday, March 13th at Utah - Easy - This is a trap game. It's the second night of a road back to back against a young team. Dallas should win. But this is going to be a dog fight. Prepare yourselves.
Sunday, March 16th at Oklahoma City - Very Hard - This will be the third game of a three game road trip. On the other hand, the Mavericks will have a number of days to rest. Buuuut.... since the Western Conference Finals in 2011, the Mavericks are 1-15 versus the Thunder (including preseason and playoffs). So, either the Mavs are due or the Thunder have our number.
Monday, March 17th vs Boston - Easy - The Celtics will put up a good fight, but Dallas is too talented to let a young Boston team give them too much trouble.
Wednesday, March 19th vs Minnesota - Medium - This is another game I have circled on the schedule. The Timberwolves have hanging around on the outside of the playoff hunt and by this point we should have a clearer idea if they're still in the hunt and whether or not they have something to play for. Minnesota is a touch match up for Dallas regardless.
Friday, March 21st vs Denver - Medium - As I mentioned earlier, I'd like to say Dallas will run away with this one. But with these Mavs... well they have a tendency to play down to their competition.
Sunday, March 23rd vs Brooklyn - Medium - It took a crazy game from Mirza Teletovic to put Dallas away in the first match up. I expect Dallas to win, but Brooklyn is an exceptionally talented team.
Tuesday, March 25th vs Oklahoma City - Very Hard - A national TV game versus one of the best in the West. It would be great if Dallas could win one of these two match ups against the Thunder, but I don't expect it.
Thursday, March 27th vs L.A. Clippers - Hard - Dallas is 0-2 vs the Clippers this season yet they had a chance in both games. They're due. Let's call this one a win, despite the odds not being in their favor.
Saturday, March 29th vs Sacramento - Easy - The Mavericks got whipped by the Kings once this season and withstood a Rudy Gay 35 point outburst in the other. Dallas should win, but the Kings cause the Mavericks match up problems everywhere. A team that expects to make the playoffs wins regardless.
In a 14 game month, the Mavericks have 6 games I've classified as Very Hard or Hard, 5 games in the Medium range, and 3 Easy games. That's a tough road to hoe after a relatively easy February.
Since Dallas is now 36-24, the Mavericks need to post a .500 record in March to stay in the playoff hunt. Obviously, an above.500 record is what to strive for but it's not likely. In fact, it's entirely possible the Mavs lose ground. What's important is to not freak out too much if they hit a rough patch, because Dallas does have a tiny margin for error.