Dallas Mavericks fans and basketball analysts across the country have been asking for a measuring stick to learn what kind of team this is, and they’re about to get it. Though their schedule started slowly, this week began a ramping up for the Mavericks. After a quick road back-to-back, where they dropped a game to the Paolo Banchero-less Orlando Magic then a disappointing loss to the Washington Wizards without Bradley Beal or Kristaps Porzingis Thursday, the team heads home for a five game homestand. And now the competition gets stiffer.
Removing the absolute thumping they put on the Memphis Grizzlies at home (who themselves were on the second night of a back-to-back) the Mavericks have few statement victories. Their two best wins are to the surprise Utah Jazz and the Toronto Raptors without Fred VanVleet. And the loss column features coughing up big leads to the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder. Mix in several where the game nearly slipped through their fingers late, and well, it’s just hard to define what this team is quite yet.
And that’s ok. It’s important to remember it is early in the season, and things are still to be learned. But we’re reaching a defining moment. There are nine games remaining in November, and it’s a stretch that could very well define the rest of the season.
Four of the five games in Dallas this week are against Western Conference teams currently ahead of the Mavericks in the standings: the Portland Trail Blazers (9-3), Los Angeles Clippers (7-5), and two against the Denver Nuggets (8-3). The only game that should be light work, should, is against the Houston Rockets, which happens on the second night of a back-to-back after the Clippers game.
That is to say, there should be no off nights. The trouble to this point isn’t necessarily that the team is playing bad. They have a winning record after all. The problem is that nearly every game requires maximum effort, the majority of Mavericks games ending in clutch minutes.
The road trip
After wrapping up the homestand the Mavericks hit the road to play some of the Eastern Conference elite: the Boston Celtics (8-3), Toronto Raptors (7-5), and Milwaukee Bucks (10-1) — the final two games are a back-to-back. That’s three teams with long, punishing defenses; teams that have the perimeter talent to throw an entire brigade at Luka Doncic.
The month is completed by facing the defending champion Golden State Warriors. That’s a team that is currently struggling, especially on the road, but never a fun team to face.
These nine games could tell us what we need to know about this season’s Mavericks. Do they start to find their footing defensively, the side of the court they formed their identity on last season, while facing two of the elite offenses in the league in the Celtics and Nuggets (both ranked top five)? Can they produce offensively against five of the top eight defenses in the NBA (Bucks, Clippers, Raptors, and Trail Blazers)?
If the Mavericks find success the rest of this month and gain some momentum heading into winter, perhaps Jason Kidd and his staff have discovered a replicable blueprint for the rest of the season. If they struggle, no it doesn’t resign them to being a lottery team...or even a play-in team. But it might make things more urgent, and could start to force the coaching staff or front office’s hand to make changes. It is a step up in competition, that could shed light on where they are now. And this month could tell us everything we need to know for the future.