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Are We Miami Or Are We Cleveland?

Here we are at the halfway point in the season, and the Mavericks have provided little glimpse as to who they really are other than horribly inconsistent. A look for any kind of season-long trends is a recipe for frustration. Just when you think the defense has come around, it falls apart. Just when the offense is starting to look like a weapon from both inside and outside of the paint, the team falls into jumpshot after jumpshot. It is possible that this is who the Mavs really are: A collection of players that simply can't mesh into a cohesive group and play dominant basketball for any extended period of time. However, there is also the possibility that the team simply hasn't found itself and that much better things are ahead. So, with no further ado, let's look at the best case/worst case scenarios for the Mavs as we head into the final half of the season.

The Best Case Scenario

What if I told you there was a team with a 24-17 mark. They aren't too far from the top of the playoff seedings but also disturbingly close to mediocrity. The bad teams in the conference are so bad that there's little chance they'll get a lottery ball, but a high seed in the playoffs is looking increasingly like a dream. In terms of offense and defense, they're above average but not anywhere near the top of the league rankings in efficiency. At the midway point of the season, they're hovering in the top ten. They also were riding a mini losing streak, but used a win to end the firt half of the season to build on into the second.

Look familiar? Well, it should, because it not only looks like the 2008-2009 Dallas Mavericks it also describes the world champion 2005-2006 Miami Heat.

Miami ended the season with a 28-13 record in the second half and went on to tough it out against Chicago, New Jersey, and Detroit to eventually beat the Mavs in the finals. If there is any optimism in Mavs land, this is the kind of scenario that makes it clear that there is still hope.

Worst Case Scenario

Well, the obvious worst case scenario would be for Dirk Nowitzki to go down with a season-ending injury, but let's not include the injury angle. Let's just look at what's happening on the floor.

What if I told you there was a team that had a 25-16 mark at the halfway point, and this team featured a star scorer with a lot to prove. What if I told you this team also ended the first half with a win but had lost 3 of 5 before then. So they entered the second half with some momentum, but not a lot. This team also had a very good team offense and team defense that put them right below the top ten in the league. This team also was criticized for having too many role players and not enough stars to support their star scorer.

Sound familiar? It should, as that's how a lot of people would describe the Mavericks. In fact, that team is actually in better shape than the Mavs, having won one more game in the first half of the season. Unfortunately, this team was the 2004-2005 Cleveland Cavaliers, and they ended the season losing 19 of their last 30 games and finished out of the playoffs. Their downfall was the second half of February, where they lost 8 of 9 games and began their slide. As a point of reference, the aforementioned Miami Heat closed out February winning 7 of 8.

Look To February

The 2006 Miami Heat and the 2005 Cleveland Cavaliers entered February with about the same profile. Cleveland was slightly worse on offense and defense, but certainly within the same ballpark as Miami. They had a similar record. That all changed in February, where the Cavaliers collapsed and the Heat took off. For the Mavericks, who have a similar profile to both teams entering the second half of the season, February will be absolutely crucial. If the team collapses, it is almost a foregone conclusion that this season can be written off. If they roll off a big win streak, they will have the kind of momentum entering spring that we have seen take teams to the finals. And if they just tread water? Well, then the team will be maintaining its same middle-of-the-road inconsistent self that we've seen all year.