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The Mavericks versus December

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After their worst start in decades, can Dallas bounce back in December?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

So here’s the thing. After an 0-3 start I tried my best to be hopeful about the Dallas Mavericks in November. I went so far as predicting a 7-7 record, which would’ve put Dallas within striking distance of .500.

After injuries to Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, and Deron Williams, that prediction looks rather ridiculous. With the team sitting at 3-14, the Mavericks have a Herculean task ahead. The December schedule may not be as difficult as November, but there are as many games (17) this month as they’ve played all season. The month generally splits up in to home games (first half) and road games (second half), with the Mavericks playing eight contests at American Airlines Center and nine on the road. There are three back to backs.

The Mavericks also play most games on one day’s rest, with only one stretch (Christmas Eve and Christmas) where they have more than a single day off. For the 5th oldest team in the league, things stand a real chance of going from ugly to downright abysmal.

Each game will get a difficulty level: EASY, NORMAL, HARD and (rarely) VERY HARD. At this point in time, I don’t think the Mavericks are very good. After a month’s worth of games, I have a better feel about the league and Dallas, but please let me know where you think I’ve gotten it wrong in the comments.

Thursday, Dec. 1 at Charlotte Hornets - HARD - Gone are the days where the Mavs would punish the then Bobcats. Steve Clifford has the Hornets humming. Kemba Walker is playing out of his mind right now and Dallas has no one who can guard him. Harrison Barnes should take repeated advantage of his mismatch against Frank Kaminsky, but he’ll also match up against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Expect the Hornets to pull away with this one.

Saturday, Dec. 3 vs. Chicago Bulls - HARD - It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but the Bulls are one of the best teams in the Eastern conference. Despite a mishmash of guards who can’t shoot (Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter Williams), Chicago is making things work. Dirk’s availability could swing this one, but with Taj Gibson playing the best basketball of his career and Jimmy Butler continuing his strong performances, the Mavericks might get run off the court.

Monday, Dec. 5 vs. Charlotte Hornets - HARD - Seeing the same team twice in a week is not great, particularly when the match-ups are not in your team’s favor. Dirk Nowitzki, should he be available, changes the calculus from the first game. Dirk could open the floor up more against a stingy defense and with some home cooking Dallas could eek out a win. It’s unlikely, though.

Wednesday, Dec. 7 vs. Sacramento Kings - MEDIUM - On one hand, the Kings are also pretty bad. On the other, they have DeMarcus Cousins who, during the course of his career, has averaged 22 point, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, nearly 2 steals, and a block against the Mavericks. The Kings also boast Harrison Barnes’ evil stat clone Rudy Gay. The main thing Dallas has going for them is that the Kings are always a play or two a way from implosion. With some big bodies to throw at Boogie and a home crowd, I’d wager this is the first win of December for the Mavericks.

Friday, Dec. 9 vs. Indiana Pacers - MEDIUM - The Mavericks lost the initial match-up on opening night in overtime. Dallas went very small in hopes of combating the Pacers quickness, but Myles Turner lit the Mavericks on fire. Without J.J. Barea, the Mavericks may attempt to slow the pace way down. The Pacers are a terrible match-up for the Mavericks and their lack of speed, but this game still feels like a toss up. Who knows, maybe they can win two in a row.

Saturday, Dec. 10 at Houston Rockets - HARD - It seems barely beating Dallas early in the season might have been the wake up call James Harden and company needed. Harden has embraced his role and is posting an astounding 29 points and 12 assists per game. Wesley Matthews will have his work cut out for him with a road game on the second night of a back to back. With the talent and play style disparity, this is probably a loss.

Monday, Dec. 12 vs. Denver Nuggets - MEDIUM - The Nuggets are a strange team in that they have a great deal of mid-tier talent that can’t seem to become greater than the sum of the parts. On paper, the various big men of Denver look to be a match-up nightmare for the Mavericks. Jusuf Nuric and Nikola Jokic are ridiculously talented. Kenneth Faried always gives the Mavericks trouble with his boundless energy. The Danilo Gallinari match up with Harrison Barnes will be fascinating. This game looks like another toss up on paper, so let’s give this win to Dallas.

Wednesday, Dec. 14 vs. Detroit Pistons - MEDIUM - The Pistons are having a rough go early in the season, which is to be expected considering Reggie Jackson has missed all their games with an injury. He should be back for this game against the Mavericks and he’ll be the key factor in determining the outcome. All the other match-ups are interesting, but Jackson is the one area where the Pistons have a key advantage. Another toss-up leans towards the Mavericks with the game being in Dallas.

Friday, Dec. 16 at Utah Jazz - HARD - The Mavericks lost to the Jazz the first time around with the Jazz missing their best player in Gordon Hayward. I don’t expect the second match-up to be any easier for Dallas. This one looks like a loss.

Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. Sacramento Kings - MEDIUM - This will be the second match-up in Dallas versus the Kings in under two weeks. Depending on how the first match-up goes, this one will probably be the opposite. Consider it a toss up.

Monday, Dec. 19 at Denver Nuggets - HARD - The second game of a back to back in Denver’s high altitude? Even though the teams involved might not be great, the Nuggets have a pretty strong advantage over the Mavericks, who will be playing their 11th game in 19 days. Consider this one a schedule loss.

Wednesday, Dec. 21 at Portland Trail Blazers - HARD - Damian Lillard dropped 42 points on the Mavericks in the first match-up in Dallas. The Mavericks will still have issues stopping Lillard and might be dealing with a team in Portland looking to right the ship. They’ve struggled out of the gate relative to expectations and by this point in December things may be at a boiling point.

Friday, Dec. 23 at Los Angeles Clippers - VERY HARD - Look, the way the Mavericks win this one is if they catch the Clippers looking ahead to Christmas. The Clippers are a better team, top to bottom, than the Mavericks.

Monday, Dec. 26 at New Orleans Pelicans - MEDIUM - The Pelicans boast All-Multiverse forward Anthony Davis, guard Jrue Holiday, and that’s about it. The Mavericks won the first match-up for their third win of the season. This game should be a tight match-up as well, with the odds tilting towards the Pelicans, with it being the fourth straight road game for the Mavericks.

Tuesday, Dec. 27 vs. Houston Rockets - HARD - It’s really great of the NBA schedulers to put three of the four Dallas-Houston games on the second night of a back to back for the Mavericks. Did I say great? I meant cruel. While it’s the first home game for Dallas since December 18, there’s no resting against the pace pushing Rockets. This is a schedule loss.

Wednesday, Dec. 29 at Los Angeles Lakers - MEDIUM - Dallas bested the upstart Lakers in the opening match-up. The question for this match-up will be what Lakers team shows up? Despite their inexperience, the Lakers have the talent to continue playing .500 basketball through December. Prior to Dallas they will likely be coming off losses to the Clippers and Jazz. Dallas needs to be ready to take advantage of a reeling squad.

Thursday, Dec. 30 at Golden State Warriors - VERY HARD - How kind of the scheduling committee to end the 2016 part of the season with a loss to the flaming buzz saw of basketball death that are the Warriors.

The range of outcomes for December really depends on how you view the team as a whole. A pessimist looks at December and sees two, possibly three wins. An optimist could see as many as eight wins. The problem there is that even with eight wins, that’s still under .500 for the month.

The Mavericks are essentially done for, no matter what our valiant owner might say. It’s a matter of whether things go from bad to worse or if they go from bad to “well, at least they are watchable.” It’s going to be a long month.