Well thank goodness that January is finally past us. The Mavericks opened the year playing 12 of 16 games on the road and managed to escape with a 9-7 record, a game better than I predicted on New Year's Day.
It may feel like a bit of a failure of a month after a four game road trip, but take heart: despite being sixth in the West at this very moment, they are really just a game and a half back behind the third seeded Los Angeles Clippers. All it takes is one run and the tables could turn all the way around for our Dallas Mavericks.
With the All-Star break right around the corner, there are only 12 games this month, including eight in the American Airlines Center and four out on the road. When looking ahead this month, I'll assign each game a difficulty level: Easy, Medium, Hard, and in some cases, Very Hard.
Monday, February 2 vs. Minnesota - Easy - This game nearly tilts towards a ranking of Medium for two reasons: first, Ricky Rubio will be returning after a long absence and since Rajon Rondo will miss the game because of his probable concussion, Rubio could cause havok just with his ability to get into the lane and make good passes. The second reason is likely rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins. If you've not seen him play lately, go check out some of his stat lines reaching back to the first of the year. He's figuring things out and playing bully ball a lot of the time. The Mavericks have no one to match up with him. But, we still have Dirk Nowitizki, Monta Ellis, and Tyson Chandler. Dallas ought to take this one.
Wednesday, February 4 at Golden State - Very Hard - One could argue the last Golden State loss on December 10th prompted the Mavericks to make the move for Rajon Rondo. Since he'll probably miss this game with the aforementioned head injury, this one could be a blow out as well. The Mavericks made the final score of the first match-up respectable, but anyone who saw the game remembers the feeling of helplessness and the Warriors just ran roughshod over Dallas. The Mavericks would need a hot start and a sustained effort in order to pull this one off.
Thursday, February 5 at Sacramento - Medium - Another one that could tilt into Hard rather easily, just because Dallas doesn't match up with the Kings very well. It took a bit of a late game push to win the second match-up, and recent All-Star appointee DeMarcus Cousins might have revenge on his mind. Assuming Rondo's out here as well, this game could require a massive effort as it's the second game of a road back to back. This might be a 50-50 toss up.
Saturday, February 7 vs. Portland - Hard - Damian Lilliard loves to fight windmills, saying he feels disrespected after not getting selected to the All-Star Game. I expect he'll be on a tear by the time the Blazers come to Dallas next weekend. Without Rondo, he could very well have a field day. But Portland has an average road record (12-11 as of this writing), and Dallas has the offensive weapons to keep pace or beat on the Blazers. This game could come down to how well Dirk Nowitzki shoots, simply because the Blazers don't have anyone that can really bother him defensively. This might be another 50-50 game, but I have a feeling the Mavs pull this one out.
Monday, February 9 vs. Los Angeles Clippers - Hard - The Clippers beat the pants off Dallas in the first match-up. Yet, I just can't shake the feeling that we should be able to beat them if things break the right way. Assuming Rondo is back by this point (and he may not be, that injury was nasty), I'd like to think he would be out to prove himself as Chris Paul embarrassed him in the previous tilt. There's a lot of talk about how the Mavericks have a weak bench, but the Clippers' version may be worse. LA plays well on the road as well, so this may be a tough game for the Mavericks to win. If they can grab a W either here or against Portland, I'd be pretty happy.
Wednesday, February 11 vs. Utah - Easy - The final game of a three game home stand comes against a young team in the Jazz. Dallas has owned both previous match-ups, but Utah has been playing much better as of late. That said, young talent often does not play well on the road and the veterans in Dallas should be able to wrap this game up quickly.
Thursday, February 19 at Oklahoma City - Hard - The All-Star break gives the Mavericks a whopping eight days off. By this point in time, Rajon Rondo should almost certainly be back from injury, giving Dallas another weapon against the dangerous Thunder. Oklahoma City has been playing .500 basketball as of late, hurting their chances of a late playoff push. The Mavericks will need their best effort to sink the Thunder, but after a long rest I suspect this will be a great game with Dallas coming out on top.
Friday, February 20 vs. Houston - Hard - Really cool of the NBA to schedule every Mavs-Rockets game for Dallas on a back end of a back to back (yes, I will complain about this until the end of time). With Dwight Howard out forever with a "knee injury," the Mavericks should be in every game against Houston. So far, they're 0-2 mainly because of bad luck. Another 50-50 game in a month filled with them, but I think Dallas pulls this one out.
Sunday, February 22 vs. Charlotte - Medium - The Hornets play really hard, but they also aren't very good. This game would have gotten the "Easy" tag, save for how rough and tumble the Hornets make games. The Mavericks should win this one running away, but by this point in the year very few wins are guaranteed.
Tuesday, February 24 vs. Toronto - Hard - Dallas stole the first game in Toronto as DeMar DeRozan went down with a nasty injury. With the addition of Rondo, though, the Mavericks are a different team and should be able to stifle the Kyle Lowry-led Raptors. It will be a battle, but the Mavericks should be able to win this final game of the three game home stand.
Wednesday, February 25 at Atlanta - Very Hard - Playing the best team in the East on the road on the back end of a back to back? SOUNDS EASY. Seriously though, the Hawks are so balanced that it will take an absurd night from the Mavericks or an off night for Atlanta for the Mavericks to have any real shot. Dallas is so bad at defending the three point line Kyle Korver could have 40 points.
Saturday, February 28 vs. Brooklyn - Easy - You should have signed in Dallas, Deron Williams. The Nets are a mess and despite having a lot of veteran talent, the Mavericks should be able to run away with this one after a few days rest.
This is a short month, in terms of games, but it's packed with really high value match-ups. Considering the Dallas record against other top teams in the West (not good) there are chances a plenty to make up that gap. I'd really like to see the Mavs finish the month 7-5 or even 8-4. I think it's possible too. But considering the strength of schedule and a possible Rondo absence, a 5-7 month is just as likely. This may be another frustrating month for Mavs fans as Dallas may just tread water in a tough playoff race.