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 22 — vs Memphis Grizzlies
In the companion to this piece I refer to the Grizzlies as the Mavericks’ little brother. At the home opener later this month my point will stand. I expect the Mavericks to lick some wounds from an opening night loss to the Suns with an emphatic display at the AAC.
Luka Doncic will show out, and Christian Wood will give the home crowd a taste of what could be the rest of this season. This is the kind of matchup that will stay close most of the way, due to the scrappy mentality of the Grizzlies. But the Mavericks will take care of business and ease some of the anxiety from a loss to the hapless Phoenix Suns.
Nov 15 — vs Los Angeles Clippers
So much has happened, including what felt like a full season Clippers health hiatus, that you’re forgiven if all that LA bad blood feels like the distant past. But now Kawhi Leonard is back, the Clippers are considered a threat once again, and likely means some contentious play between Doncic and Terrance Mann and Marcus Morris Sr.
But Luka is an even better player than those 2020 and 2021 playoff series (13 games where he averaged 33.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 9.5 assists while shooting 39-percent from deep). And even with some question marks on the roster, this version of the Mavericks is better suited to face the Clippers. So circle this game at home as the Mavericks welcoming the Clippers back into the playoff hunt.
Dec 25 — vs Los Angeles Lakers
Oh right, there’s that other Los Angeles team. Thanks to Luka, the Mavericks are now a mainstay of holiday basketball. And now they get to host LeBron James at this ragtag Lakers squad. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the roster in LA will look different then than it does now. But it should be a fun Christmas afternoon tilt.
Doncic hasn’t actually played great against the Lakers or his idol, shooting under 30-percent from three. Which means in the spirit of holiday optimism he’s due. Having sat out last year’s Christmas game, expect Luka to put on a show at home.
Jan 20 — vs Miami Heat
It could be 2006, 2011, 2023 or 3023 — my distaste toward the team from South Beach knows no bounds. The history is there, the animosity (at least from my seat) exists. Never mind that none of these players (minus Heat geriatric Udonis Haslem) actually faced off in any meaningful heated battle for these teams. I’d like to think Jason Kidd being around can still drum some of that up. It is a shame that the only way these two teams can meet in the postseason is by both being in the championship because I believe this could be a fun true rivalry.
Historically it’s actually much closer than I expected: in 71 regular season games the Miami Heat lead 37-34 in the series. And the sides are split dead even in the postseason 6-6. After dropping the first four meetings in Doncic’s career, the Mavericks have three of the last four. Make it four of five.
Mar 29 — @ Philadelphia 76ers
The Mavericks finish the season at home with three winnable games (Sacramento, Chicago, San Antonio). But before that this their 13-game stretch:
- @ New Orleans
- @ Memphis
- @ San Antonio
- @ Los Angeles Lakers
- @ Memphis
- Golden State
- @ Charlotte
- @ Indiana
- @ Philadelphia
- @ Miami
- @ Atlanta
This could be a brutal stretch in what is likely to be must-win situations every night. That also tells me they’re primed for a shocking road win when they need it most. The Mavericks have gone 4-6 in Philadelphia over the last ten seasons. But something the team will be hyper-focused on this late season road trip, Jason Kidd will have experimented enough to press the right buttons on the road, and they steal a key victory in the most surprising place on the schedule.