The Mavericks have enjoyed their most successful month of the 2013-14 season in February. Dallas has won nine of eleven games this month and they are playing their best basketball of the season. The Mavericks hot streak has them at 13 games over the .500 mark, a season high. There may be a few factors at play that would explain why the Mavericks have seen their level of play improve in February, but there is one that stands out above the rest.
While Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis continue to exceed preseason expectations, the most notable improvement has come from the Mavericks’ second unit. Dallas’ bench has become a vital part of the recent success that the Mavs have seen as the second unit is averaging 40.4 points per game over their last 10 contests. Only two teams in the NBA have received more production from their bench than Dallas has over that stretch.
On paper, Dallas had a strong bench before the season began, but this did not last long as injuries began to mount prior to the season. Two key members of the Dallas bench were point guard Devin Harris and power forward Brandan Wright. Neither Wright nor Harris were able to play when the season began and they would not share the court until the 42nd game of the season.
Fortunately for Dallas’ frontline, power forward DeJuan Blair was signed in the offseason and his presence was instrumental in providing the Mavericks with a solid option while Brandan Wright recovered from a small fracture to his left shoulder. Blair may not posses the athleticism and leaping ability of Brandan Wright, but he is a tough, physical presence around the rim and he paid immediate dividends.
Dallas was not as fortunate when it came to replacing veteran Devin Harris. Harris’ injury would force two young points guards onto the court in situations that left Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle counting down the days until he would have Harris back. Rookie Shane Larkin and Israeli league MVP Gal Mekel had zero games of NBA experience between them and their contributions were limited at best while Harris was on the mend.
Harris returned from offseason toe surgery to join a new group of players he had to yet to share the court with. Harris proved to be quick study, taking little time acclimating to his new teammates. Harris is a pass-first point guard and his style of play compliments shooting guard Vince Carter and Brandan Wright. Led by Carter, the Carolina connection has combined to average 29 points per game over their last three contests.
The Western Conference is going to leave a quality team out of the playoff picture entirely. A strong bench could be the difference in a number of games down the stretch for the Mavericks. Strong contributions from the bench should also ensure Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are not fatigued as the postseason approaches.
The Mavs’ bench is now scoring 6.5 more points per game than they did prior to the All-Star break. This improvement could be a crucial factor down the stretch for Dallas. Keeping up with the rest of the Western Conference has proven to be a daunting task, but Dallas has a star to lean on in Dirk Nowitzki, and they now have a potent bench to contend with.