After starting the season at 3-5, the Dallas Mavericks are now riding a five-game winning streak as they head out west to face Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers, Chris Paul and the revitalized L.A. Clippers, and Al Jefferson and the Utah Jazz.
Part of the longest road trip of the season, which includes a fourth game on the road against the New Orleans Hornets next weekend, this upcoming three-game foray into the western sky catches the Mavs feeling like the sun has just begun to shine on them. After an understandable, though frustrating, miserable start, the team is energized and clicking on about seven of eight cylinders right now.
Last Three Games
In one of the last three games (Wednesday night), the Mavericks beat the Boston Celtics 90-85 at Boston, with Jason Terry leading the scoring for Dallas with 18 points. In the game, Mavs center Brendan Haywood had 11 rebounds, leading the way for Dallas. A very tight game throughout, Dallas took advantage of a Celtics miscue with just seconds left to put the game away.
Returning home to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night, the Mavericks fired a blazing 52% from the field and were relentless throughout the game. The offensive pressure came from all corners of the court. The Dallas cross-court offense was executed smoothly by Delonte West and Jason Terry, and the Bucks were defeated 102-76. It was a game in which power forward Dirk Nowitzki scored his 23,000th point, a milestone reached by only two other active players, Kobe Bryant and the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett.
The Mavs defense was devastating in Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. A road weary team, the Kings could not get any kind of offense started. Scoring only 23 points in the first half, the Kings now have the dubious honor of being the lowest-scoring opposing team in Mavericks history for one half of play. The halftime score was 52-23. In the second half, the Mavericks completed their strong defensive effort, keeping the Kings to a total of 60 points. The final score was 99-60.
Next Three Games
Dallas heads now to the land of movie stars and earthquakes. Complementing the natural phenomena, as well as the Hollywood manufactured ones, are two very good basketball teams.
The first contest will be between the Mavericks and the Lakers. Both teams are riding tides of success over the past few seasons. The interesting matchup will not be one of skill (though it will prove to be interesting as well), but will be Dallas’ Lamar Odom playing against his former team.
Odom has continued to express disappointment in leaving the Lakers, and though his Dallas teammates have given him some space to make adjustments, the local fan base is not completely convinced yet that Odom wants to be a Maverick. However, his effort and his output are coming along much better in the past week, and one would have to think he is looking forward to seeing his friend Kobe Bryant and all his former Lakers teammates. Dallas fans just hope he won’t accidentally throw the ball to Kobe for a 22-foot jumper out of habit. The game is on tomorrow, January 16, and it can be seen on TNT at 10:30 pm EST.
After the Lakers, Dallas will be playing the L.A. Clippers, newly revived with their acquisition of point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets. The perennial whipping post of the NBA’s Western Conference, the Clippers have posted a 6-3 record to start the season. Paul is making a difference, and the Mavs will have their hands full in containing him. The game is on Wednesday, January 18, and it can be seen nationally on ESPN at 10:30 pm EST.
On Thursday, Dallas travels to Utah to play the Jazz. They will face former teammates from the 2006 NBA Finals team, Devin Harris and Josh Howard, as well as Jazz center, “Big Al” Jefferson (formerly of the Celtics and Timberwolves).
Down the Road
The Mavericks are still making a lot of adjustments to their lineup. With Jason Kidd playing again (after recuperating from soreness in his back), the starting lineup is Jason Kidd, Delonte West, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood. As of late, however, the full second team has been getting more playing time as coach Rick Carlisle is concentrating heavily on what he calls “energy conservation” during this crammed schedule.
The Mavericks, having completed four victories in five days, became only the 12th team since the 2008-09 season to do so. According to dallasbasketball.com, who gives excellent year-round coverage of the Mavericks, there have been 271 tries at this feat. Given that two were road games, one of which was against the Boston Celtics, it is apparent now that the Mavericks are strong contenders again for a playoff run.
The biggest improvements in the Mavs’ court play in the past five games has been their field goal shooting percentage and rebounding. In the last five games, Dallas has managed to outpace the shooting percentages of their opponents by an average of more than 10 percentage points per game.
In rebounds, the Mavericks have created a differential of 5.4 rebounds per game, in their favor. The west coast tour will challenge this particular statistic, but the Mavs are playing very well under the basket, with Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi doing most of the rebounding.
Prediction for the Next Three Games
Based on four key stats that I watch during the season, even though the Mavericks are facing three consecutive opponents on the road, all of whom have a winning record as of now, I have the Mavs chances of winning two of three at about 89% probability.
Saying which two of the three games are most likely to be won is difficult, but the Lakers have a bad turnover ratio and Dallas has a very good one. Dallas has been doing well on its fast break game, and I think one of the two victories will come against the Lakers.
The team most likely to beat Dallas in this three-game set is the L.A. Clippers. They too have a good turnover ratio, and their amount of assists per game is also high, thanks to Chris Paul.
The key to winning in Utah will be the continuing of excellent play by the Dallas centers, since neutralizing Al Jefferson will be a key to victory.
I’m looking for a 10-6 record as the Mavs travel next Saturday to New Orleans to close out their road trip.
(Note to readers: Rather than trying to keep up with all the games daily, I plan to write a Mavs report, as this one is, in three-game sets. Any breaking news or other special Mavs stories will be added to these.)