The Dallas Mavericks have had an up-and-down year. At 27-21, they were fighting off the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
Even though there’s a second half to be played, the Mavericks can’t find themselves too far behind with so many good teams in the West.
Entering Monday, Dallas had six games left before the 2014 All-Star break in New Orleans, but its first five could shed light on how its final 2.5 months will be.
The Cleveland Cavaliers came into town on Feb. 3, a team the Mavericks desperately needed to beat. The Cavs started the day 15-32 and in the bottom half of a rather horrible Eastern Conference. Combine that with a home game for Dallas, and it was a recipe for a Mavs’ win.
Dirk Nowitzki led six players in double-figures with 23, Monta Ellis added 22, and Jose Calderon recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 assists as the Mavericks defeated Cleveland 124-107.
For once, the Mavs held on to a double-digit fourth-quarter lead. Dallas was up 15 entering the final quarter.
This season, it has been rare to see the Mavericks win a game when they had a big lead at one time. In fact, in the teams’ previous meeting, the Mavs held a 22-point halftime lead before the Cavs stormed back to cut the deficit to three before committing a five-second inbound violation in the final seconds.
Dallas was in control this time around, never letting the Cavs get within single digits in the final 12 minutes.
The Mavericks next face a tough road challenge as it faces the surging Grizzlies on Feb. 5. The Grizzlies are 13-4 in the calendar year, and had won 11 of 12 before falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder 86-77 on Monday night.
Memphis was without Mike Conley for the second-straight game, and will be without its point guard for at least a week due to a Grade 2 right ankle sprain.
The Mavericks will finish their first half with the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, and a trip to the East-leading Indiana Pacers.
Samuel Dalembert will be key, not only against the Grizzlies, but for the remainder of the season.
The big man, in his first year in Dallas, recorded 18 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks against the Cavs.
Dalembert has shown signs of elevating Dallas’ game, but has been a disappointment thus far, averaging 5.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game this season. He was brought in as a defensive presence, but has been through his own ups and downs with coach Rick Carlisle.
If the Mavs can continue to play the way they did against the Cavs, and hold on to more big leads in the future, they have a good chance of not only making the playoffs, but making a run in the playoffs.
Dallas is currently 1.5 games back of Golden State, two games back of Phoenix, and four games back of Houston.
I believe if Calderon can sustain his level of play and become much more of a passer as he’s costumed to, letting Nowitzki and Ellis become the primary scorers, that’s when the Mavs are at their best.
I do like the times when Ellis is the primary passer on the floor, but I really think he plays better when he’s the traditional two-spot.
The return of Devin Harris has been huge for the Mavs, as he brings another element of speed along with the three-ball and defense that Ellis isn’t known for. Harris scored a season-high against the Cavs.
Nowitzki is an all star this season for a reason, and has been on fire as of late, finishing the Mavs’ four-game home stand with 30.8 points, 9.8 rebounds per game while shooting 61 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown.
Nowitzki, who is averaging nearly 22 points per game, is averaging just that in two meetings with the Grizzlies this season. Both in Dallas, the Mavericks have defeated the Grizzlies by 12 and 14, but this Memphis team is far different.
Hopefully with Conley down, the Mavericks can take full advantage of the situation with rookie Nick Calathes in his spot.
Nowitzki, who became the 13th player to eclipse 26,000-career points, is also averaging six rebounds and three assists this year versus Memphis, while shooting 52 percent from the field, 60 percent from three, and 90 percent from the charity stripe.
Carlisle also hopes to have Shawn Marion back for Wednesday’s game. Marion is Dallas’ best perimeter defender, and has been dealing with a shoulder injury. Marion has missed the last two and six in the last 14.
The Tar-Heel connection in Vince Carter and Brandan Wright will need to be there if Dallas has any hopes to closing out the first half on a terrific note. Carter is in a mini two-game slump, scoring just 11 points after scoring 54 in the previous three and shooting the ball very well.
I’ve always like Wright. He brings that element of length and athleticism to the Mavericks, something they lack in the front-court positions. Wright has scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds while shooting 8-of-13 in the last two games. He grabbed his first double-double of the season, and just the second with the Mavs on Jan. 31 versus the Sacramento Kings.
The Mavericks have to take advantage with a key player out. Dallas fell short on Jan. 29 against a James Harden-less Rockets team then had to come back against the Kings, who were without all-star snub DeMarcus Cousins.
If all goes well, Dallas could find themselves higher in the West standings, which in turn could bold well after the All-Star break.