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January Will Be a Month to Remember for the Mavericks

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The month of January was an interesting one for the Mavericks.  They had to endure the season-ending injury to Caron Butler during the first game of the month.  The team also had to endure the longest stretch of games lost due to injury for Dirk Nowitzki.  Imagine the Spurs without Duncan and Ginboli, the Lakers without Bryant and would those teams fare?  They probably would have performed similar to the Mavericks as they started the month losing eight of their first 11 games.  Things were corrected along the way and now, they have won their last five consecutive games. 

With all of the ups and downs, the Mavericks are just half game out of second place in the Western Conference.  Coach Rick Carlisle admitted that it used to be a regular routine to observe the standings, but that isn’t the case now.  "I just really concentrate day-to-day on us.  Right now, we just need to study our own game," Carlisle said.  "The important thing is we’ve got to play our games well, we’ve got to keep improving as a team, we’ve got to keep improving our health.  Those are the things that are going to impact us the most." 

Mark Cuban is not sure that there is actually a shift in the balance of power going towards the Eastern Conference.  He is sure though that teams go through tough stretches like the Mavericks had to go through.  "I don’t think anyone is saying that the West is easy," Cuban said.  "I think teams just go through their ups and downs and when it happens to you, it seems like you’re in the middle of the vortex.  When you’re at the bottom of the toilet seat looking up, that is never fun."

What led to the Mavericks’ ability to stay afloat during the turbulent month?  The supporting cast stepped up and picked up the slack while Nowitzki and Butler were hobbled.  Two players in specific, Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea, stepped up and helped the team on both ends of the court.  It appeared the team was stuck in an incredible rut on both ends of the floor and they struggled to reach 80 or 90 points in a game.  Those two players took a larger scoring responsibility and the team’s offensive woes seemed to go away. 

Chandler’s offense usually comes out of the flow offense and as history has shown, Barea’s scoring input can be incredibly unstable.  It could be hard for the Mavericks to count on either of those in crunch time but the Mavericks will take whatever they can get to continue building momentum towards April.  Chandler understand the situation the team was in earlier in the month and looks back at the month and looks back with a good feeling.  "I’m really proud of the guys with how we hung in there," said Chandler.  "Teams could have folded, we took our lumps when we went on our losing streak but it didn’t break us and it didn’t break our attitude in the way we prepared for each game."

With back-to-back efficient nights in the scoring department, it appears that Robo-Nowitzki is back as the big German’s shooting percentage numbers are coming back to where they were prior to his sprained knee.  While looking back at the month, Dirk Nowitzki realizes that the start to January was not an ideal situation, but the ship could be righted.  "It wasn’t pretty there for a while," Nowitzki said.  "But we talked about it, we’re too talented and we’re just too good.  We’ve just got to get healthy and do some of the stuff we were doing in November and December and we’ll get back on our winning ways."  As each game has gone by, you can see that Nowitzki has been more aggressive.  The extra work put in after practice to build strength and stamina has paid off as the quickness and lift has slowly improved.  It was consistently preached by everyone that patience was necessary and that it would be a process.  After a couple of weeks, it appears that the face of the franchise is regaining his old form.  

The Mavs front office continued being opportunistic as they signed Sasha Pavlovic to consecutive 10-day contracts and acquired Peja Stojakovic via a buyout from the Toronto Raptors.  The decision to let Pavlovic go came down from the top and it basically involved flexibility going forward.  The Mavericks are hopeful that Stojakovic can join the team shortly and provide the team an added dose of offense.  Pavlovic allowed the Mavericks to build cohesion that had been lacking since Butler went down.  The process will have to start over with Pavlovic leaving and Stojakovic due to join the team soon.  That does leave the Mavericks lighter at the wing position in the short term and that means players will have to pick up the slack again.  Brian Cardinal did an amazing job against the Wizards on Monday.  For a player to respond like that after going though a period without significant action is very impressive.  The mindset has been set on going through necessary growing pains over the course of the season to ensure that the team hits their peak at the right time.  This scenario is just another part of the equation.

Dallas has shown that they rely heavily on cohesion and chemistry.  They have also shown that whenever they lose it, they have the ability to regain it.  In addition to Stojakovic, Roddy Beaubois should return to the lineup soon.  There is always the possibility that the Mavericks could pounce on a great deal by the trade deadline or find an opportunistic situation with a player being bought out.  At that point, the Mavericks will truly be able to see what they have in terms of the ability to make a championship run.  "We’ll hopefully get Roddy back soon, get Peja back soon and we’re going to be a heck of a team," Nowitzki said.

Jason Kidd has seen it all over the course of his Hall of Fame career .  That means he could see the start of the month as a troubling but expected situation.  He also believed that the team would regroup based on their veteran core.  "I knew we weren’t going anywhere," Kidd said.  "This is a veteran ballclub, we weren’t panicking.  We felt that we struggled and it was good for us to struggle to understand that you are never given the wins in the league, no matter how stacked you are or how talented your team is."  Kidd and the rest of the team believes that the situation will make the team better and everyone will be able to see that.

"There is no magic formula," Carlisle said in regards to the approach going forward.  "There are no big pep-talks at the beginning of February in an NBA season.  We’re all in this for one reason.  We’ve got a lot of guys in here making a lot of sacrifices here."  The Western Conference has clearly gone down slightly in its level of intensity.  That should not discredit what the Mavericks have been able to do (with industrial tape and band-aids) to stay right in the mix near the top of the conference.  The Mavericks have shown that they can ride through the challenges that come along the way.  "This is a challenging time for us but I am a believer," Carlisle concluded.  "I’m a believer in our guys." 

The Spurs are the only team in the West showing consistency, that means the rest of the conference is wide open.  The Mavericks have shown that they have no fear against their in-state foes and they can defeat them.  "We’ve just got to keep on going now, we’re right in the pack of things," Nowitzki said in regards to where the Mavericks stand in the Western Conference race.  "It should be a fun second half of the season after the All-Star break."  If you're wavering in your belief in the Mavericks, make sure you remember where the Mavericks were to start the month of January and where they finished.