At the start of the calendar year, the big question in the NBA Western Conference was whether a perennial playoff team that added a highly regarded interior player and a coveted free agent guard in the offseason could overcome their slow start and crash the postseason.
Of course, the focus was on the Los Angeles Lakers, but what if it should have been on the Dallas Mavericks?
The Mavericks are just two games behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and recent trends favor them. While the Lakers look like the West’s version of the maddeningly inconsistent Atlanta Hawks, winning some games handily, then blowing a double digit lead at home to the lowly Wizards. The Mavericks have quietly gone back to looking like their playoff perennial selves; they’ve won 21 of their last 34 (a 50 win pace) and are 8-3 since installing journeyman Mike James as the starting point guard. This is heady stuff for a team left for dead back in December.
The next five games will show if the Mavericks are truly a threat. They finish a six game homestand with tilts against three playoff-bound teams, the L.A. Clippers, the Indiana Pacers, and the Chicago Bulls then they head west to face the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets. If they survive that stretch in good shape, then Dallas area sports fans will have something other than early season Rangers baseball and Cowboys mini-camp to occupy their obsessions.
I had feared that the NBA would stoop to Sacramento 2002 type tactics to insure that the Lakers would make the playoffs; however, if Dallas makes it, then it sets up another chapter of the Dallas-San Antonio rivalry–perhaps not as juicy as Kobe as an underdog, but easy enough to sell.