By Will Martin
With the 63rd annual All Star Game in New Orleans now done and complete-and a record setter at that- the focus of the NBA and teams are to see which shall be most successful in the race to the playoffs come April. The Dallas Mavericks did an outstanding job to close out the first half of the season winning five of six games, a 7-2 mark for the month of February, and the possibility that we see some wheeling and dealing right at the deadline in a few days. With a 32-22 record and the number six seed in the West one wonders aloud what, or if, Dallas does anything at the deadline?
“We’re always looking for ways to improve. Now with that being said, all of the parts are pretty intricately intertwined. To get, you got to give and right now the team is looking good and we’re not looking for reasons to change, but if something presented itself, obviously we’ll look at it.” according to Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson when talking recently to local Dallas radio station 105.3 FM The Fan.
“This year’s draft we’ve got Boston’s pick, which is going to be at the very top of the second (round), and with the depth of the draft, sometimes it’s as good as a first-round pick. We got the ability to take that and take our other second-round pick and certainly maneuver and move up. So if that comes to pass, it’s not the absolute worst thing in the world, and we’ve always been aggressive during draft time and (owner Mark Cuban is) not opposed to do whatever it takes to do to make the team better — and we’re creative, as you know, so it’s not like an Earth-shattering situation that we can’t overcome.”
One plan of attack you can anticipate from Rick Carlisle as February rolls into March and April is to get as many wins as possible and be able to attain tiebreakers on any team who happens to be in Dallas’ way seeded 1-8. Currently that is a Mavericks advantage on the Memphis Grizzlies. If the same can be done to Phoenix and Golden State.
After a season (actually two) where Dirk Nowitzi has been nursing injuries (and missing playing time) the past off-season has paid off nicely for the Big German.
Seems each night he plays something of a milestone is reached. Now 35 and in the downward spiral of a given career Nowitzki has had one of his better seasons. One which owner Mark Cuban believes can be attributed to the arrival of Monta Ellis.
“Dirk had to conserve energy a lot more last year knowing he was the only one who was going to be able to do it, particularly at the end of the game,” Cuban said. “Now he can pick his spots knowing that Monta is going to attack the basket and create shots for him.
“Monta’s made his life easier. We’ve seen the pick and roll where they [defenders] know he’s going to attack the basket and he throws it back to Dirk for an open jumper. It’s been a huge improvement. Monta leads the league in basket attacks, and it shows. If you leave Dirk, he’ll throw it to Dirk, and if you don’t leave Dirk, Monta will attack the rim. And that’s hard to stop.”
Rick Carlisle is also quick to marvel at the magic a healthy Dirk Nowitzki seems to carry on a club.
“I’m not surprised, but I’ve had 51/2 years to see how he’s wired and see how he approaches things,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “If people are surprised, that’s fine. But you’re talking about all-time great players. They’re wired to be great. That’s just how they do business.”
Currently second in the league with a .910 free throw percentage Dirk is averaging 21.7 points per game and shooting .492 from the field.
Monta Ellis as Dirk’s buffer is good for about 36 minutes a night and 19 points. Jose Calderon, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion each average about 11 per game. Add a healthy Brandan Wright and Devin Harris and now you speak of an added 9 and 10 points off the bench respectively.
Quick math: Mavs are good for roughly 95-100 points a night. With a little shut down defense-a knock on this team in 2013-2014- Dallas will be in most games and keep things interesting. Yes there was a stretch where Mavs would collect a double digit lead and proceed to lose it. 18 at Atlamta, 19 at Los Angeles, 21 with the Raptors, 18 with Golden State, 17 with Golden State, all of this before the return of Wright and Harris.
There are 28 games left in the regular season here in Dallas. It begins with the 2006 and 2011 arch nemesis Miami Heat. Here’s hoping Team Carlisle can begin the second half as they did in Indiana. With focus, conviction, a slight swagger, and with the leader of the pack, Dirk Nowitzki, able to carry Dallas on his back to offset to the onset of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Mavericks then take a lengthy road trip beginning with a back to back on the 21st and 22nd at Philadelphia and Detroit, the Knicks on the 24th before returning home on the 26th to handle the Pelicans.
My prediction sensors believe Dallas will go 18-10 down the stretch, get to 50 wins and play the #2 seed San Antonio Spurs come April. It will mark 13 playoff appearances in 14 years under Mark Cuban’s watch. While aware that some 15 years a movie came out with Sandra Bullock overcoming adversity in one month Dallas can await a happy ending to the regular season after a months worth of action.
2/18 vs Heat 7:30 PM
2/21 @ 76ers 6:00 PM
2/22 @ Pistons 6:30 PM