It’s no exaggeration to say the Mavericks have had a tough opening month to this wild NBA season. Dallas has played 11 games on the road this year, the most in the Western Conference, and tied with the Knicks for the most in the NBA. Kristaps Porzingis missed the first nine games of the season while recovering from offseason knee surgery. When he finally returned to action, the Mavericks lost five of their key contributors to health and safety protocols related to COVID-19.
There’s also been the grueling schedule, which has featured all sorts of challenging scenarios — five games in seven days, six games in nine days — all while being shorthanded. It’s no surprise the Mavericks have looked worn out, defeated, and lacking energy lately. And while the meat grinder of a season won’t stop anytime soon, there’s reason to be optimistic. Despite everything mentioned above, Dallas is hovering around .500 in the standings. They’re only a game and a half away from being the fourth seed in the West. Even more promising, we haven’t really seen the complete Mavericks team yet.
Looking ahead at the schedule, there’s some relief in sight. There are some tough stretches against quality teams, but overall the calendar should start to work in the Mavericks’ favor, rather than against them. With some injury luck, they’ll have their whole roster and have a few days to catch their breath. It’ll also show us exactly how good this roster can be. Let’s look at some of the key areas of the upcoming schedule.
Four games against Utah and Phoenix
The Mavericks will face the Jazz twice in Utah, one of the quirks of this odd season put in place to reduce travel. The Jazz have quietly put up one of the best records in the NBA, trailing only the two LA teams. But Dallas will catch a break, for once, as Utah will be on the second night of a back-to-back for the first game in the series. The Mavericks have to take advantage of a tired opponent, something they’ve failed to do this year. While Dallas will be on the road for these two games, there’s reason to hope that staying in the same city for two or three nights will make things a little easier.
After their trip to Salt Lake City, the Mavericks will host the Suns for two games in Dallas. The first game against Phoenix will be the second night of a back-to-back for the Mavericks, but the Suns will be playing their third game in four days. This will be just a week removed from going to overtime in two consecutive games against the Nuggets. You have to think Phoenix will a little weary after that stretch. At the very least the Mavericks should come away with a split in the two games.
February in Dallas
The Mavericks will play fourteen games in February, and ten of them will be at home. This will include a stretch of seven consecutive home games in the middle of the month. Dallas has struggled at home this season, sitting at 2-4, and weren’t much better last year, going 20-18. But this isn’t really about home court advantage as much as it’s about the Mavericks getting a chance to enjoy the comforts of home. After playing so many games on the road, being at home for so long has to provide a jolt of energy for a team that badly needs it. There’s nothing better than sleeping in your own bed after being away for a long time, and I’m sure the Mavericks are looking forward to spending the majority of February in Dallas.
Some other scheduling advantages
The Mavericks had only one instance of games scheduled two days apart in January. In February, Dallas will have two sets of games scheduled two days apart. It doesn’t seem like much, but playing basketball at a high level every other day can wear teams down. The Mavericks are definitely showing the effects of this. At this point, they’ll take all the rest they can get.
There’s also been rumblings that the Summer Olympics will be canceled, though those reports have been denied. This is significant because the NBA has created the compressed schedule with an eye on finishing the season before the Olympics begin. If the Olympics are canceled early enough, it’s possible that the second half of the season could be a lot easier to navigate. This would be especially true for a team like the Mavericks, who have only had one game postponed. They wouldn’t have as many games to make up as some other teams.
With a full roster and an easier schedule on the horizon, the Mavericks should be primed to make a run. The next five weeks could make or break this season. Dallas needs to start winning and avoid the uncertainty of the new play-in format for the 7-10 seeds. Missing the playoffs would be a disaster, and the Mavericks have no cushion. They have to take advantage of the favorable schedule ahead.