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The Mavericks versus January

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Can Dallas build some momentum in the new year?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article did not mention the second Phoenix game is being played in Mexico City. It also stated that Rajon Rondo did not play in the first Mavs-Bulls match up. Those mistakes have been fixed.

Good news everyone: in 2017 the Dallas Mavericks are undefeated.

In the 2016-17 season, the Mavericks currently sit at 10-24, tied for last place in the Western conference. After their worst start in decades, Dallas bounced back somewhat in December, posting a 7-10 record. Last month I wrote: “A pessimist looks at December and sees two, possibly three wins. An optimist could see as many as eight wins.”

Considering the injuries Dallas has faced paired with the volume of games, this is a really impressive turn around for a team that’s still finding its bearings. Dallas is currently in the middle of a three-day break in action, its longest since mid-November when they had four days off between games.

January sees the Mavericks playing slightly fewer contests at 14, with eight games at home and six on the road. After three back to backs last month, the Mavericks also have three in January, all coming in the last half of the month. But compared to the first few months of the season, this schedule is very soft.

Each game will get a difficulty level: EASY, NORMAL, HARD and (rarely) VERY HARD. This team’s still rather difficult to assess. Are they as bad as their record? I think everyone would agree they aren’t. But determining the ceiling, particularly with so many rotation pieces working back from injuries, is really challenging. Let me know where you think I’m wrong in the comments.

Tuesday, Jan. 3rd vs Washington Wizards - MEDIUM - To date, the Wizards have performed below their own expectations, currently sitting at .500 in the muck of the Eastern conference playoff race. But they also went 10-5 in December, and John Wall is the kind of player Dallas does not match up well with. The Wizards will be playing in Dallas on the second night of a road back to back after visiting Houston, so the Mavericks should be able to make this one interesting. Call it a coin flip where the good guys win.

Thursday, Jan. 5th vs Phoenix Suns - EASY - The Suns are a mess, sitting at the bottom of the West with the Mavericks. Like the Mavericks, Phoenix is a mishmash of younger talent and older veterans that simply hasn’t clicked with consistency. Whereas Dallas saw an uptick in hope in December, the Suns notched just four wins. If Dirk Nowitzki is back to playing more than 15-18 minutes a game, the Mavericks should take this game at home.

Saturday, Jan. 7th vs Atlanta Hawks - MEDIUM - The Hawks are another middling Eastern conference team that’s struggled to get any true separation in the playoff hunt. With a revamped roster featuring a reinvigorated Dwight Howard and a promoted player in Dennis Schroder, the Hawks are going to be dangerous. The real match up to watch will be Harrison Barnes against the perennially underrated Paul Millsap. Millsap is an incredible all-around player and the chess match between the two will be worth keeping an eye on. Atlanta will be playing its third game in a four game road trip, so consider this game a toss up that should tilt towards Dallas.

Monday, January 9th at Minnesota Timberwolves - MEDIUM - On paper, the Timberwolves should beat the pants off of the Mavericks. Dallas has no one who can guard Karl-Anthony Towns or Zach LaVine and that Andrew Wiggins fella is a ridiculous scorer. They’re also coached by one of the best in the business in Tom Thibodeau. But basketball is not played on paper and an alarming lack of consistency and defensive growth has resulted in a team that’s a single win better than the Mavericks in the standings. This one’s a toss up that favors the veteran savvy of Dallas.

Thursday, January 12th at Phoenix Suns - MEDIUM - Each team will be playing off a few days rest and whichever team comes out with less rust gets the victory. Road games are traditionally harder wins, but since this one’s in Mexico City it’s hard to say how either team will react.

Sunday, January 15th vs Minnesota Timberwolves - MEDIUM - Whatever happens in the January 9th match up, I expect the opposite to happen. Beating the same team twice in a week is hard for any team, let alone teams that struggle with consistency. The only interesting thing here is that it’s a 3pm Sunday afternoon tip off, which doesn’t happen often.

Tuesday, January 17th at Chicago Bulls - MEDIUM - The Mavericks notched what could bee considered their signature win of the season over the Bulls in early December, destroying Chicago by 25 points. The Bulls opted to rest Dwyane Wade, which probably won’t be the case this game. Expect the Bulls to want payback for a loss that arguably started them down the path to a rough win-loss record in December. The Mavericks should have Dirk this time, though, so Dallas should be able to keep pace regardless.

Thursday, January 19th at Miami Heat - MEDIUM - The Heat have ceded the season already, so in a battle of bottom-rung teams, the Mavericks should have the upper hand. Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are very talented, and Dallas doesn’t match up particularly well with either. Consider this a Maverick victory.

Friday, January 20th vs Utah Jazz - HARD - The Jazz have beaten Dallas twice this season and will be playing on a few days rest against a Maverick team on the second night of a back to back. This is a scheduled loss for a variety of reasons, but it’s hard to complain too much given the slate of games in January. The Mavericks should give the Jazz all they can handle, but I’m predicting a Jazz win.

Sunday, January 22nd vs Los Angeles Lakers - MEDIUM - The Mavericks are 2-0 this season against a youthful, but talented Lakers squad. Pairing an early afternoon game against an inexperienced roster should result in a Maverick victory, but anyone who saw the first half of the last Mavs-Lakers game knows that LA is capable of putting up points in a hurry. The Mavericks should improve to 3-0 against the Lakers this season.

Wednesday, January 25th vs New York Knicks - MEDIUM - The Knicks embarrassed a Dirk-less Mavericks squad in mid-November as Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony scored a combined 48 points on Dallas. The Knicks are still figuring out who they are (and Derrick Rose and Melo have yet to figure out that KP is the Knicks’ best player), so the Mavericks should have a fighting chance. That said, Carlisle will have to get very creative defensively because the Mavericks may have to pick whether Melo or KP is going to light them up. This is a toss up that favors New York, despite it being a home game for Dallas.

Thursday, January 26th at Oklahoma City Thunder - HARD - This is rather mean scheduling on the NBA’s part. It’s night two of a back to back for the Mavericks on the road in Oklahoma on national TV against basketball Tasmanian devil Russell Westbrook. Top that off with the fact that Cuban is STILL saying stupid things about Westbrook, and I fully expect a first-half triple double for Westbrook and for the Thunder to win big.

Sunday, January 29th at San Antonio Spurs - HARD - The Mavericks are 0-2 versus the Spurs this season, including one game where the Spurs sat most of their best players and didn’t pull away until late. The Mavericks just don’t match up well against the Spurs, so this is another drubbing.

Monday, January 30th vs Cleveland Cavaliers - VERY HARD - The Dallas Mavericks have not beaten LeBron James since 2011 and unless he sits out this game (always possible), this one is a scheduled loss through and through. Even if he does sit out, the Cavaliers are extremely talented offensively, and the Mavericks do not have players to match up with Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving.

The Mavericks are currently a mere four wins out of the eighth seed. But that also means they are competing with seven other teams for that final playoff spot. If the Mavericks are to make a move up the standings, this is the month. Looking back at this schedule, there are as many as 10 winnable games. An 11-3 month would be ludicrous, but 9-5 is really within range if things shake out the right way. That would still leave the Mavs well under .500, but the race to the eighth seed is a long one no matter how you slice it.

On the flip side, winnable games also mean the Mavericks must perform with some consistency (which means playing much better defense). The floor for games this month is probably four wins if the team craters. Considering how the Mavericks closed out December, that feels unlikely.

Here’s hoping the Dallas Mavericks start out the year on a great note.