By Bryan Murphy
Zaza Pachulia, yes, Zaza Pachulia, strangely leads all Dallas Mavericks players in All-Star Game voting with nearly double the amount of votes of 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. Although Pachulia most likely won’t make his first ever All-Star appearance this season, it’s still pretty awesome that the Dallas big man is being recognized among NBA fans. Pachulia has not only been a pleasant surprise for the Mavs this season but he has been one of the team’s biggest contributors. He averages 10.7 PPG and 10.8 RPG while recording a double-double in 18 of the 36 games he has played in this season.
“We got basically a walking double-double for a second-round pick,” Nowitzki said about Pachulia on Sunday. “That’s a heck of a trade and a heck of a find.”
It’s also not just what he does with the ball in his hands regarding his rebounding, scoring and superb passing skills he possesses for a big man, but rather what he does without the ball. He displays outstanding hustle and heart going for every rebound and loose ball. He’s made it nearly impossible to not be a Zaza fan.
The Mavs will need massive contributions this week from Pachulia and of course Nowitzki as they face their toughest week yet. Matter of fact, this upcoming week will be so brutal that it should be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.
It all begins Tuesday night as Dallas hosts to four-time NBA MVP LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland comes to town red-hot sporting a seven-game winning streak. The Cavs have been able to find its groove due to the fact that everyone is finally healthy including point guard Kyrie Irving. Cleveland is 8-1 with Irving in the lineup since he made his season debut on Dec. 20. Having him back takes some slack off of LeBron but that doesn’t mean the King isn’t still playing at an MVP level. James is averaging 25.5 PPG, 6 APG and 7.4 RPG for the season and has found his three-point stroke in the month of January. After shooting under 20 percent from beyond the arc in December, James is shooting over 40 percent in 2016 to go along with his complete, all-around game.
It certainly doesn’t get any easier for Dallas as they have to travel north to Oklahoma City to square off with the Thunder the following night. The Thunder currently sit in third in the Western Conference thanks to its two superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. We all know what both these players can do on the court. Westbrook is a triple-double machine and Durant is a former league MVP who can score in every way possible. The Mavs lost the previous meeting this season with the Thunder, 117-114 and Durant didn’t even suit up for that game.
The Mavs then have to keep on heading north for their only trip to Chicago this season to face the Bulls. These two teams played each other just two weeks ago in Dallas in a game in which the Mavs were able to come out of with a victory. But, since the Bulls suffered that loss, they have won six of seven and Jimmy Butler has been playing out of his mind. In the month of January, Butler is averaging almost 29 PPG while shooting over 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and over 85 percent from the free throw line. It is worth noting that in the game with Dallas, Butler was held to just 17 points on 36 percent shooting and fumbled away five turnovers. If the Mavs can imitate a performance like that defensively on Butler, Dallas has a legitimate shot at beating Chicago once again.
To cap off the hellish week, the Mavs have to end it Sunday night in San Antonio. The Spurs are a whopping 22-0 at home this season and if it wasn’t for the insane season the Golden State Warriors are having, all focus would be on the 32-6 Spurs. Kawhi Leonard will most likely earn his first All-Star nod this season and it will be much deserved. The 2014 Finals MVP has quietly become the team’s best player. Leonard is the Spurs best scorer, defender and shooter but unfortunately for Dallas, containing him doesn’t necessarily equal an automatic win. San Antonio is loaded with future Hall of Famers, All-Star caliber guys and the best coach in the NBA in Gregg Popovich.
Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
1/12 vs Cavaliers 7:30 PM
1/13 @Thunder 7:00 PM
1/15 @Bulls 7:00 PM
1/17 @Spurs 6:00 PM