If, like me, you hadn't checked the standings in a while before this week, you might have been surprised to see the Mavericks -- once comfortably in fifth place in the West -- now sitting just one game out of eighth. After limping into All-Star weekend, they're dangerously close to falling out of the playoff picture entirely. While Dallas has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play, younger squads like the Jazz and Trail Blazers have been surging over the second part of the season.
If the Mavs want any breathing room in the final weeks of the season, they need to take advantage of a home stand that has them playing bottom-dwellers Nuggets, Timberwolves, Magic and Kings before facing Denver on the road. The March schedule gets quite a bit tougher after that. Luckily, Dallas showed earlier this season they're capable of beating this Nuggets team quite handily without playing their best game.
Who are the Nuggets?
Denver is winning more of late. At 5-5 so far, February is the only month this season they haven't posted a losing record. But even with signature wins against the Warriors, Raptors and Clippers this year, it's not clear what this team's identity is. As our sister blog Denver Stiffs observed this week, "When things are clicking, it's kinda purty. When they're not, the only thing clicking is my teeth."
Sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari and power forward Kenneth Faried are consistently the Nuggets' most productive players. But back in November in Dallas, the Mavs' were able to pressure Denver into 20 turnovers while holding Gallinari to 4 of 12 shooting. This team is unpredictable but it seems safe to say he'll improve on those numbers.
One of multiple issues to pop up in recent losses is the lack of production from the Mavericks' reserves. That's going to be an issue anytime Devin Harris, JJ Barea and Ray Felton are averaging between 19 and 27 minutes per game. Either Felton or Barea appear in four out of the team's five worst two-man lineups this season. New arrival David Lee (4 points, 4 rebounds in his first game) will hopefully help anchor the bench over the next month and a half.
But in Will Barton Denver boasts a legitimate candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. At 6'6", he could be a handful for the platoon of little guards Rick Carlisle loves to deploy.
Consistency is key
As Carlisle told Dallas media on Thursday, his focus is on more consistency throughout games. The Mavs might like to see more consistency game-to-game from their best players as well. After scoring at least 24 points in three straight games before a blowout win over Philadelphia, Chandler Parsons got in early foul trouble against Oklahoma City this week and finished with only six points. Dirk Nowitzki is still capable of dropping a vintage performance now and then but Parsons needs to get himself going in tough matchups if the team is going to scratch out a playoff berth.
How to watch
The game starts at 7:30 pm CT. Catch it locally on Fox Sports Southwest or on League Pass with your device of choice.