The NBA summer is an odd time. Fans get their thrill from the Finals and draft in June, only to take angsty twists and turns during the onslaught of Woj bombs throughout July. But August can only be compared to a wanderer desperately searching for water and shade in a vast sea of sand and heat like forlorn NBA fans reach out for anything that will draw them closer to October.
Monday, the NBA revealed the 2019-2020 schedule and fans received their first glimpse at their team’s path to a hopeful NBA championship. Aspirations in Dallas are as high as they’ve been in recent years, but one quick look at the matchups provides a necessary reality check.
It’s not a stretch to say the Mavericks have a tough road to postseason basketball. The Los Angeles teams reeled in major star power. Denver and Portland both return a nucleus looking to build off last year’s run. Houston and Utah both acquired high caliber guards and bolstered depth a long the way. And San Antonio will fight for a playoff berth with unheralded prospects and the team’s video scout (but they actually are adding Dejounte Murray to the formidable pair of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan.
My prediction has Dallas jockeying with four or five other teams for the final playoff spot. With the margin of error razor thin, this year’s Mavericks must do what the past Dallas squads have not: start strong.
In 2016-17 and 2017-18, Dallas stumbled out of the gates to a 2-13 start, winning 33 and 24 games respectively. Neither team sniffed .500 and scraped the bottom of the standings for the majority of the season. Last season Dallas scampered to a 7-8 start -- substantial progress, all things considered -- but in that stretch dropped games to the Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks.
The team was able to recover and surface four games above .500, but that proved to be unsustainable and the Mavericks eventually squandered their best start in three seasons.
Simply put, the Mavericks don’t have the luxury of starting slow and losing winnable games in a stacked Western Conference. Here’s how the schedule shakes out in October and November:
October 23 vs Washington
The Wizards signed Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas to bolster the backcourt depth with John Wall on the shelf, but the home opener and Kristaps Porzingis’ debut mean Dallas should open the season with a win.
October 25 @ New Orleans
The Pelicans had one of the most eventful summers catapulting into the Zion Williamson sweepstakes and trading Anthony Davis for a trove of assets. Williamson’s Big Easy debut will be tough for the Mavericks to outshine.
October 27 vs Portland and October 29 @ Denver
The Trail Blazers and Nuggets project to be two of the West’s top teams and make the possibility of the Mavericks dropping the first three games a real threat.
November 1 vs Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers first visit to Dallas will be a good litmus test for the Mavericks. After LeBron James missed his first postseason since the 2005-06 season, the Lakers pried Davis away from New Orleans retooling a young roster in one summer. Also, Kostas Antetekounmpo revenge game?
November 3, 6, 8 and 9: @ Cleveland, vs Orlando, vs New York, @ Memphis
This is an important stretch for the Mavericks who face a stretch of inferior opponents. If Dallas wants to get off to a good start, beating these teams is paramount. As far as storylines go, Porzingis gets his first crack against the Knicks with the backing of his new home crowd and Dennis Smith Jr. makes his first trip to Dallas since the trade. With Porzingis likely to be load managed, the trip to Memphis will be a stiff test.
November 11 @ Boston
Dallas gets an early look at what could have been with the Kemba Walker led Celtics. Last season the Mavericks split the season series. The departure of Al Horford means Porzingis could feast if the rust is shaken free.
November 14 @ New York
The Mavericks and Knicks tilt for the second and final time three weeks into the season, but the stakes will rise the second time around as Porzingis makes his highly anticipated return the Madison Square Garden. A motivated Porzingis should push the Mavericks over the edge.
November 16, 18, 20: vs Toronto, San Antonio and Golden State
Dallas gets a three-game home stand against the NBA’s former elites will still be the underdog in each matchup. Winning one of these three games is important and losing all three would be a disappointment.
November 22 vs Cleveland
The Mavericks 15th game of the season is against the Cavaliers at home. This is the first night of a back-to-back for Cleveland before they head to Portland, so Dallas should be able to take care of the young Cavaliers with ease.
Much can change from now and October 23, but the Mavericks have a considerable shot to finish 8-7 during this 15 game stretch. Whether Dallas can maintain that pace is a post for another time. Unlike the early stretch of the season, the team faces a brutal December and January squaring off with 17 playoff teams from last year in a 31 game slate.
Simply put, Dallas must show improvement after two lost seasons. Putting the right foot forward is paramount to a playoff chase.