It has been a busy offseason for Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic. After a trip to the Western Conference Finals he filled the rest of his summer with World Cup qualifiers for Team Slovenia, followed immediately by the Eurobasket Tournament. Slovenia had a dramatic exit in the quarterfinals to upstart Poland; a disappointing end to Slovenia’s title defense that also left Doncic rather banged up.
But for the rest of us the last month and a half was the slowest stretch of the year — a perfect opportunity to sit and stew on the announced NBA schedule just as training camp hits. This is the fourth edition of the schedule rage and rejoice, a chance for us to pinpoint a handful of games that encapsulate the roller coaster of a season. The unexpected defeats and thrilling surprise victories. As a reminder: I am always 100% correct with all of these, every single year. Let’s dive in!
Oct. 19 — @ Phoenix Suns
The vibes are bad in the desert. After being embarrassed by the Mavericks on their own floor in Game 7, and an awkward contract standoff with former number one pick DeAndre Ayton, followed by the suspension of team governor Robert Sarver, the Suns are...back? Set aside the fact the Mavericks should be playing host on opening night to the team they eliminated. For a while now Phoenix has been a bad matchup for Dallas. And it’s entirely possible the curse has been fully broken and the Mavericks will continue to tread on the fragile state of Chris Paul and Devin Booker’s emotions.
But then again, expect some bad blood. Expect a motivated, maybe even over-motivated Suns team. As if they could erase all of the horror of last summer with a regular season win. It would be fantastic if the Mavericks came out ready for every swing. But my gut says the Mavericks will be sluggish and still getting their footing sans Jalen Brunson. A reminder that the Mavericks have gone 1-3 to open the season in Doncic’s tenure (two of those losses at the hands of the Suns).
Nov. 29 — vs Golden State Warriors
In that same spirit of revenge every MFFL would like to stick it to the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, who swiftly eliminated the Mavs last summer. This will be their first chance, at home, in front of a national audience. Dallas played them well in the regular season last year, but the Warriors are still the Warriors and the Mavericks will be returning home from an east coast holiday road trip. Layer in this being an early start to a midweek game, which could mean some sluggish Mavericks and another taste of bitter defeat.
Dec. 27 — New York Knicks
The Mavericks let a good one go in Jalen Brunson. Free agency turned into an awkward affair, something Brunson himself alluded to at the New York Knicks media day. And while I personally think the Mavericks undervalued a Brunson contract, there’s no doubt it ended up being a massive price tag. The front office and staff was more distant in how they spoke of Brunson’s impact earlier in the summer, but more recently have admitted it will be impossible to replace exactly what he brought to the team.
Even though this is the second time the teams meet this season, expect extra energy from Brunson as he returns to the AAC for his first visit in an away jersey. It would be nice to see Luka and Spencer Dinwiddie dominate this game, but I’m going to wager they will be preoccupied still celebrating their Christmas Day victory over the Los Angeles Lakers (more on that in the rejoice column!). Brunson will come in and put on a pivoting floater clinic and the Mavericks will walk away shaking their heads.
Feb. 10 & 11 — @ Sacramento Kings
The Kings are just one of those teams, aren’t they? Always a mess, always being annoying to the Mavericks. Dallas makes a visit to Sacramento in early February, just before the all-star break, playing an odd back-to-back, the end of a five-game road trip that also features games against the Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Write it down now. The Mavericks are dropping at least one of these. I don’t know who it’s going to be, I don’t know if it will be another buzzer beater, I don’t know if a vengeful Harrison Barnes with not a mean bone in his body decides to rise from the ashes and them, but the Mavericks will be losing at least one of these.
Mar. 20 — @ Memphis Grizzlies
There is something about this Grizzlies team that feels like the Mavericks are playing their little brother. I don’t know what it is, I can admit it’s not fair and probably not even accurate given regular season records last year, but there’s just...something.
The Mavericks face Ja Morant and his army the second game of the season, and then not again until March 11, where they then face-off three times in nine days. Those will be two very different teams playing each other five months apart. This is the final matchups between the two in what could be a hotly contested Western Conference playoff race. So who knows, maybe Dillon Brooks is still on the team and trips his way into a buzzer beater or something.