Route 66: Easiest stretch of games

There aren't many portions of the 66-game schedule that can be described as "easy," mostly because of the frequency of games and because the Western Conference -- which accounts for 48 games -- is still pretty darn tough.

But there is a favorable stretch the Dallas Mavericks will need to take advantage of during the third week of January. It spans four games, three in a row at home, and all against teams that could well be below .500 and miss the playoffs.

Coming off a back-to-back, the fifth one of January before the 20th, the schedule takes a favorable turn with the next four games all coming with a day of rest in between.

Here's the breakdown:

Jan. 21 at New Orleans Hornets: There's a strong possibility the Hornets' two best players, Chris Paul and David West, will be playing elsewhere. West is one of the top three free agents on the market, and New Orleans is exploring trade possibilities for Paul, who can become a free agent next summer.

Jan. 23 vs. Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash and the Suns always give the Mavs a good run, but Nash is a year older, and these days he just doesn't have a lot of help.

Jan. 25 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio, meet Jason Kidd. The Wolves at least look to be heading in the right direction, and new coach Rick Adelman will have an interesting collection of talent playing the right way. Still, with the Mavs playing at home, this game needs to be checked off in the win column.

Jan. 27 vs. Utah Jazz: It still seems strange to list the Jazz as part of an easy stretch of games. But Jerry Sloan is gone, and so is Deron Williams. The Mavs typically have gotten the better of the Jazz in Dallas, and that should continue as the Mavs look ahead to a home game against San Antonio on the 29th.