By Robert Scalice
The Dallas Mavericks, owners of a 5-17 record against winning teams so far this season, are staring a Texas-sized opportunity right in the face.
They embark on a four-game road trip that begins tonight in Portland against the Trail Blazers and includes stops in Golden State, Phoenix and Oklahoma City.
With the exception of the bottom-dwelling Suns, each game will present a chance for the Mavs to demonstrate to their fans, the NBA and most importantly to themselves that they are a playoff-caliber team with a legitimate shot to give someone hell in a first-round postseason tilt.
The opener at the Rose Garden against LaMarcus Aldridge, super-rookie Damian Lillard and Co. features a Blazers team that’s been stumbling lately but is still playing .5oo ball and sitting just a game behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They’re also tough at home, sporting a 15-8 record and a recent victory over the defending champion Miami Heat. A win in Portland rarely comes easy for any team and would be a big one for the Mavericks.
It certainly doesn’t get any easier Thursday night in Oakland when Dallas squares off with the Warriors, currently holding the 5th playoff spot with a record of 27-17 and boasting one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Golden State has been the NBA’s surprise team and has already defeated the Mavs once this season – they will be a major test for Dirk and the boys.
Next up will be the Suns, the team with the worst record in the West at 15-30 and recent victims of a 110-95 thrashing at the hands of the Mavs in Dallas. It goes without saying that this is easily the most winnable game of the trip and though Phoenix owns wins over the Bulls and Clippers this season, the Mavericks have been handling the Suns with relative ease the past few seasons. This would be the very definition of a “bad loss” should the Mavs drop this one in the desert.
Finally, the Mavericks will ramble on up I-35 to meet their nemesis to the north, the Thunder, a team that’s already beaten them twice this season. OKC’s 34-11 record leads the Southwest Division and is second in the West only to San Antonio. They also possess the league’s most dynamic 1-2 punch in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with Durant lighting up Dallas for a career-high 52 points the last time these two teams met. The Mavericks’ two losses were both in overtime by a combined nine points so there doesn’t appear to be any intimidation factor on the Mavs’ part.
But moral victories won’t get it done; nor will playing good teams tough net them anything worth mentioning. If the Dallas Mavericks are serious about making a playoff push, these next four games would be a darned good place to start.