The Mavericks entered week 16 with only two games on their schedule and a much-needed break on the horizon. Dallas wound up splitting the two games, but not the way you would expect. The Mavericks started the week off by falling flat at Charlotte on Feb. 11 in a game the Mavericks would lose by 25 points, 114-99. Dirk Nowitzki suffered a sprained ankle and the Mavericks were left staring at a two-game losing streak with a game vs. the Pacers the following night on their home court.
The loss at Charlotte broke the Mavericks five-game winning streak and it was all but certain Dallas would enter the All-Star break on a two-game losing streak. To pull off a victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Dallas would have to play one of their most challenging and physically demanding games of the 2013-14 season
Sometimes adversity will reveal what kind of team you truly have. The Mavericks dug deep and rose to the challenge in Indiana, defeating the Pacers 81-73. Dallas matched the Indiana’s physicality and toughness every step of the way. The Mavericks proved to themselves and the rest of the NBA that they are capable of winning games without relying on offense alone. The 81-73 victory was only the Pacers third home loss of the year, and 73 points represents their lowest-scoring game of the 2013-14 season.
Despite the disappointing loss in Charlotte, the Mavericks entered the All-Star break having won six of seven games, and they were fresh off their most impressive win of the 2013-14 season. Dallas has now inched up to the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference, but only a few games separate Dallas from the Memphis Grizzlies, who are currently out of the playoff picture.
Tuesday, Feb. 18 vs. Miami Heat
It is impossible for Mavericks fans to see the Miami Heat and not think back to the 2011 run that brought the city of Dallas their first NBA championship. The way the Heat have played against the Mavericks since 2011 makes it evident that the title the Mavericks won their home court remains fresh on their mind as well. The Heat have won five consecutive games against the Mavericks since Dallas celebrated the 2011 championship on their home court.
The Heat are currently 37-14 and they are the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, behind the Indiana Pacers. The Heat are looking for their third consecutive championship and they are wisely treating the regular season as a marathon and not a 100-yard dash. The Heat have selectively rested Dwyane Wade to keep him fresh, and it is evident they can win games against lesser opponents without leaving it all on the court.
The Mavericks and Heat should both be fresh coming off the All-Star break. Dallas proved they could win on the road against an elite team with their victory at Indiana, and they now have an opportunity to prove they can do it on their home court. A home win against the two-time defending champions would provide the Mavericks with an additional boost of confidence.
Friday, Feb. 21 at Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers made it clear that their focus had shifted from the present to the future on June 27. The 76ers traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for center Nerlens Noel on draft day. Noel was the No. 6 overall pick in the draft but he came with strings attached. It was known Noel would miss the majority of the 2013-14 season recovering from a torn ACL. With a talent-laden 2014 draft class approaching, the 76ers decided NBA mediocrity was not something they had any desire for.
The 76ers are rebuilding, but they have already found what appears to be a significant part of their future. The 76ers drafted point guard Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th pick in the 2013 draft. Williams is averaging 17 points, six assists and five rebounds per game and he is the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award. In addition to the surprising play of Carter-Williams, another top pick for the 76ers is beginning to pay dividends.
Evan Turner was the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft in 2010. Turner was inconsistent and he struggled to find his role in Philadelphia throughout his first three seasons. The 76ers offseason makeover has given Turner a leading role on the team and he has responded well. Turner is averaging 17 points, six rebounds and four assists per game.
Despite a few talented young players, the 76ers are an awful team. At 15-39 they have the second- fewest wins in the NBA. Philadelphia enters the week on an eight-game losing streak and this is a game Dallas should win with relative ease.
Saturday, Feb. 22 at Detroit Pistons
The Mavericks head to Detroit the following night for a rematch with the Pistons. Detroit visited Dallas on Jan. 26 and they were in game until late in the fourth quarter. Dallas and Detroit went back and forth until the Mavericks pulled away late for the 116-106 win.
The Pistons frontcourt creates matchup problems against most opponents they face. Center Andre Drummond and forwards Greg Monroe and Josh Smith are long and athletic. In their January matchup, Dallas held Drummond to four points and six rebounds in 26 minutes played. For Dallas to pull off the victory in motor city, they will need a repeat of that defensive effort in the paint.
The Pistons other explosive weapon, point guard Brandon Jennings put up 26 points and had 7 assists against the Mavericks in their previous matchup. The speed that Jennings has on the court is hard to equal, Dallas may choose to give him the outside shot in order to prevent frequent penetration into the heart of the Mavericks defense. The Pistons enter the week with a record of 22-30 and they are 12-16 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.