After a 15 game December, the Dallas Mavericks have a 16 game January, including a whopping 12 road games and three back to backs. Last month, I predicted the Mavericks could go 10-5 but were more likely to finish 8-7. Dallas managed to hit my high expectations, finishing 10-5, while adding new piece Rajon Rondo (and going 4-2 since the acquisition).
As of this writing the Mavs are sitting second in the Southwest and fifth over all in the challenging Western conference. With this many road games ahead, the Mavs may do well to simply tread water. While looking ahead this month, I'll assign each game a difficulty level: Easy, Medium, Hard, and in some cases, Very Hard.
Friday, January 2 at Boston - Easy - As Rajon Rondo visits his first NBA team for the first time since being traded, expect emotions to be high and play to be erratic. Still, the Celtics are a young team, lacking the depth or talent to keep pace with the Mavericks. Dallas won the first encounter after building a big lead and letting it slip away. After three days rest, expect the Mavericks to open the New Year with a resounding win.
Sunday, January 4 at Cleveland - Hard - The Cleveland Cavaliers are not playing up to expectations, but they still have three of the best players in the league. LeBron will be sidelined, but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are capable of scoring at will on anyone at any time. That said, the Mavericks are the better team with the better coach. Talent wins many games, but unless the Cavaliers are able to establish a defensive identity in the new few days, the Mavericks have a good shot at winning their fifth straight.
Monday, January 5 at Brooklyn - Medium - That the Nets are under .500 and still qualified for the playoffs in the East is a solid reminder of how bad that entire conference is. Still, they have talent, and playing on third game of a three game road trip on the second night of a back to back...the Mavericks will be challenged. I'd expect their win streak to stay alive, but in the NBA, anything is possible.
Wednesday, January 7 vs. Detroit - Easy - The lack of Josh Smith may have opened things up for Detroit (a little addition by subtraction, if you will), but they are still bad. Dallas will probably get killed on the rebounds and win by 15, particularly after a short road trip.
Saturday, January 10 at Los Angeles Clippers - Hard - The Clippers are another team with high expectations muddling through the season. They don't have a viable starting small forward. They do have Chris freaking Paul and Blake Griffin. They are not a team to be taken lightly and a big challenge for a Mavericks team looking for teams to measure themselves against in the West. Dallas is good enough that any game is winnable, but this will be the biggest challenge they face to start the new year.
Tuesday, January 13 at Sacramento - Medium - Ignore their record. Just remember the last time DeMarcus Cousins played Dallas...he had 16-7-5 and was hampered by foul trouble the whole game. Rudy Gay owned Chandler Parsons, to the tune of 26-8-8. Dallas rallied back for a win. The Kings are not a team to be taken lightly.
Wednesday, January 14 at Denver - Medium - This has trap game written all over it. The Nuggets suck right now, but on the second night of a back to back running up against a human wrecking ball in forward Kenneth Faried, things could get dicey in the Mountains.
Friday, January 16 vs. Denver - Medium - Somehow, this is only the second Dallas home game in 2015 and against a team they will have just played two days prior. I sort of expect a Wednesday loss so expect a big bounce back game. Dallas wins by double digits.
Monday, January 19 at Memphis - Very Hard - The Mavericks will have two days to rest up to face one of the league's best teams. The first match up saw the game slowly slip away from Dallas, as Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki played horribly. I expect bounce-back performances from both, but this game is a coin flip at best. Dallas is a bit outmatched when it comes to fount court depth against Memphis.
Wednesday, January 21 at Minnesota - Easy - The Wolves are too young and devoid of talent to cause much of a problem for the Mavericks. The only way Dallas loses this one is if they manage to beat themselves.
Friday, January 23 vs. Chicago - Very Hard - Dallas needed an idiotic Kirk Hinrich foul and some insane play from Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki to defeat the Bulls on December 2nd. With Jimmy Butler looking like the best shooting guard in the league and Derrick Rose finding his way, the Bulls will be dangerous. Coin flip at best for the Mavericks.
Sunday, January 25 at New Orleans - Medium - Having the best player under 25 in the league bumps the difficulty up on this match up. Unless the Hornets have a new coach by then, this will probably be a hard fought victory with Dallas pulling ahead late. The Pelicans are just talented enough to give Mavericks fans a headache.
Tuesday, January 27 vs. Memphis - Very Hard - Well, this isn't a very fair start to a back-to-back. Same as the game 8 days earlier, it's a coin flip. At least it's at home?
Wednesday, January 28 at Houston - Very Hard - See what I mean? Somehow, this season the Mavericks play Houston all four games on the second night of a back-to-back. Last time, the Mavs lost in maddening fashion to the Howard-less Rockets. This time, they'll have a month of seasoning with new power forward Josh Smith. This could be ugly for a tired Mavericks squad, playing their 10th road game of the month.
Friday, January 30 at Miami - Medium - A lot of this game depends on the health of the Heat. To date, they've struggled with injuries, but if we're looking at the quality of play...they still are a very good basketball team. This could be a dog fight or a cake walk. This far out, it's hard to say.
Saturday, January 31 at Orlando - Easy - Finally, an easy road game for the Mavericks. Orlando has some talent, but they are a strangely constructed roster. They don't fit and their coach isn't the right person for the job either. Despite the back to back, expect the Mavericks to roll over the Magic.
With only four "lock" victories this month, the Mavericks could be in for a rough ride. But they've played really well so far and are gelling with Rajon Rondo. Like last month, I predict .500 for the month at 8-8 but think 10-6 or even 11-5 is possible if they get on a run.
One third of the season gone and I still don't know what to think of the Mavericks. They're certainly fun though, and right now, that's all I can ask for.