By Bryan Murphy
The Dallas Mavericks were brought back down to earth this past week, losing three straight games against Western Conference powerhouses. A simple recipe to bounce back from that is to beat up on a struggling team and that’s exactly how they ended the week. The Mavs handed the Denver Nuggets its sixth straight loss in smothering defensive fashion. Dallas had its best defensive quarter in team history, outscoring Denver 25-5 in the third frame – keeping the Nuggets scoreless for almost the first nine minutes. So far this season, the Mavs have improved greatly in that department and are currently 11th in points allowed per game at 99.1. They were ranked 25th last season allowing 102.3.
The Mavs now look to begin another winning streak when they head to Sacramento to face Rajon Rondo and the Kings on Monday night. As many Mavs fan remember, Rondo’s stint with Dallas last season was ignominious and one that many fans want to etch out of their memories. But, unfortunately for those same Mavs fans, Rondo is performing this season the way they wish he had performed in a Mavs uniform. Not only is he leading the NBA in assists per game (11 PPG), but he is also leading the NBA in triple-doubles with four.
“He’s a max player next year,” Rick Carlisle said about the four-time All-Star. “Someone’s going to have to back up the truck to get him.”
Big man DeMarcus Cousins is the real driving force of this team, though – but that’s when he is healthy. Cousins has missed his last three games because of a strained back and his team has struggled mightily in his absence this season. Without Cousins, Sacramento is 1-7 and is a huge reason why this talented team led by Head Coach George Karl is 6-12. Another factor as to why this team that has three All-Star caliber players (Rudy Gay is the other) but is six games below .500, is because of the team’s defense, or lack thereof. The Kings are dead last in the NBA in points allowed per game and the Mavs will look to take advantage of that when they head into Sleep Train Arena.
Dallas then heads north to Portland to play the second game of the back-to-back against another below .500 squad in the Portland Trailblazers. Point guard Damian Lillard is the only returning starter from last season for Portland and he has shined thus far. Averaging over 25 PPG and over 7 APG, he will be a tough guard for Deron Williams and Company. Lillard has struggled from beyond the ac in his last five games, shooting just 30 percent so the Mavs should look to keep him out of the paint and make him take contested threes to try and contain him.
Dallas will be facing former Maverick Al-Farouq Aminu for the first time this season and Wesley Mathews will be playing his first game at the Moda Center since he tore his Achilles in that same building last March. He played five seasons for Portland from 2010-2015 so expect him to receive a nice ovation from the Blazers faithful.
The Mavs then head home to square off against the Houston Rockets for the second time this season. Although James Harden is already having another tip-top season, the Rockets are not. They are 6-10 and were a few James Harden buckets away from handing the Philadelphia 76ers its first win of the season a few days ago.
Dallas won the lone meeting between these two teams on Nov. 14 quite impressively, 110-98. Dwight Howard did not suit up for that game but neither did Nowitzki, Matthews or Parsons. The man-of-the-night for the Mavericks was Raymond Felton, as he splashed in 23 points on 8-of-16-shooting, including the dagger jumper in the face of Corey Brewer. If the Mavs want to remain undefeated against the Rockets this season, they will have to do another superb job on defense against James Harden. In the previous meeting, Harden shot just 5-of-21 from the field and scored 14 of his 25 points from the free throw line.
The week is capped off Sunday night at home against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards are another below .500 team that should not be taken lightly this week. They are led by two dynamic guards in John Wall and Bradley Beal that can each put up 20 points any given night.
Although the Mavs are sitting pretty at 10-7 and in fourth place in the West, some wins against underachieving teams would get some early season momentum going again heading into December.
Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
11/30 @Kings 9:00 pm
12/1 @Trail Blazers 9:00 pm
12/4 vs Rockets 7:30 pm
12/6 @Wizards 5:00 pm