By Bryan Murphy
Monta Ellis’ streak of 237 consecutive games played was snapped on Sunday when he sat with a right-calf injury in the frustrating 104-99 loss to the Indiana Pacers. The 32-41 Pacers have had the Mavs’ number, winning both of the meetings between the two teams this season. Ellis, who is the Mavericks leading scorer, was greatly missed but other guys were able to step up offensively for Dallas in the loss. Chandler Parsons and Rajon Rondo each notched double-doubles with Parsons leading the way with 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting.
The timetable on Monta’s return remains uncertain but that does mean one thing. It gives us a better look at what Parsons and Rondo can and will do offensively with the ball in their hands more. We were able to get a little taste of that on Sunday with Parsons putting up 20 shots, included the potential game-tying three that would have sent the game into overtime had it gone in. Rondo played for nearly 40 minutes and flirted with a triple-double while still shooting the ball effectively as well.
The Mavs are now finished with the East for this season, finishing 21-9 and 13-2 on the road.
The 45-29 Mavericks have just eight games left this season and four of them are against Western Conference playoff teams, not including the Phoenix Suns who are four games back of the 8th seed Oklahoma City Thunder. Speaking of the Thunder, the Mavs’ first game this week and final meeting against OKC this season is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City. These two teams last played just two weeks ago in a wild 119-115 Mavs victory. Parsons and Rondo were quite the duo that night as well and Parsons had one of his best games as a Maverick, pouring in 31. I don’t expect the Mavs to be in any kind of rush to get Monta back in the lineup with the playoffs looming, so that will give Parsons and Co. a chance to have similar repeat performances once again against the Thunder. And hey, it’s not like you still don’t have the 7th all-time leading scorer in NBA history in Dirk Nowitzki. The Thunder however, will be without the services of 2013-2014 MVP Kevin Durant but that also means Dallas will once again see a heavy dose of 2014-2015 MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. Rondo and a committee of Mavs were able to get Westbrook to foul out late in the game which sealed the massive win for Dallas. If the Mavs want to keep the eighth seed Thunder off their heels, then this is a near must win.
The Mavs then travel back to Dallas to host the blazing 50-23 Houston Rockets. The Rockets are winners of seven of its last eight games and have had to endure the injury bug all season long. They have big man Dwight Howard back in the lineup but are without starting point guard Patrick Beverley. With Beverly out, that has meant former Mavs 6th man Jason Terry has been inserted into the starting lineup. That isn’t the only former Maverick that the Mavs will have to worry about. Swingman Corey Brewer is a very valuable piece for this Rockets unit that brings him off of the bench. Averaging nearly 12 PPG, Brewer can be a pest on defense, while also adding a spark on the offensive end as well.
Although Dwight is back, the main concern for the Mavs will be another legitimate MVP candidate in James Harden. The guy has just been playing out of his mind all season long averaging 27 PPG and 7 APG while also leading the entire NBA in free throw attempts and free throws made. Harden has averaged 25 PPG in the three previous games against Dallas this season, with Houston winning two of the three by an average margin of four points. Seeing as the Mavs are currently the seven seed and the Rockets are the two seed, this could very well be a potential first round playoff matchup which makes Thursday night that much more intriguing.
Dallas then closes out the week against a team they haven’t beaten all season long and for good reason. Golden State has already clinched the top seed in the West with its 60-13 record while dominating the entire league this season. They sport the best record and are the only team to have beaten every team in the NBA at least once this season. The Mavs will be lucky if they can even beat them once this year in four meetings. Dallas will once again be facing another MVP candidate in Steph Curry, who many believe to be the front runner to claim the elusive accolade. Curry averages 23.7 PPG and 8 APG and in my opinion is the best off the dribble shooter in the NBA. There are guys like Korver in Atlanta and even his fellow splash brother Klay Thompson who can spot up shoot and shoot off the dribble as well, but no one can do it quite like Curry. I can also remind Mavs fans of his ridiculous 51 point outing he put on the Mavs back on February 5th, but there is no need to open up that wound again.
The Mavs will face three of the top MVP candidates this week in Westbrook, Harden, and Curry. This is easily the toughest week on paper for Dallas especially due to the fact that Ellis is out and not knowing when he will return. The Mavericks are flirting with the four through six seeds but at the same time trying to ward off the lurking eight seed Thunder. If the Mavs can’t snag some colossal statement wins this week, they could be finding themselves as the eight seed come playoff time and getting swept to the curb by the Warriors in the first round.
4/1 @Thunder 7:00 pm
4/2 vs Rockets 7:30 pm
4/4 vs Warriors 7:30 pm