<
>

W2W4: Rebounding must be top priority

Since the playoffs unofficially started for the Dallas Mavericks last Saturday, they're 2-1, twice beating the Houston Rockets, a team now on the outside looking in, and enduring a throttling Thursday by the Miami Heat, a favorite to win it all.

Now comes tonight's tough matchup at the Orlando Magic. If the Mavs are going to make a strong push in the final month of the season -- and at this point that means simply qualifying for the postseason -- two things have to change quickly. Dallas has to start winning on the road (they're 10-15 with eight of their final 14 games on the road) and do so by getting serious about rebounding.

The differential that the Mavs are getting beaten by is getting absurd. Through 52 games, the Mavs rank 21st in the NBA in rebound differential at minus-1.39, so they're not a great rebounding team to begin with. In the last five games it's off the charts in a bad, bad way.

First, consider this from the Heat loss: Dallas went into halftime trailing by seven, which wasn't bad since the Heat shot 61.1 percent. Miami held a modest 16-12 rebounding advantage overall, but the offensive boards were even, 4-4, and the Mavs held an 8-7 advantage in second-chance points.

In the second half Miami blew the game open and won by 21 points despite shooting just 36.6 percent. How does that happen? The Heat outrebounded the Mavs 28-17 and 7-2 on the offensive glass, skunking them 10-0 in second-chance points.

In the last five games, Dallas has been outrebounded 235-173 overall and 50-27 on the offensive boards while being outscored 73-35 in second-chance points.

In those five games, the Mavs are 2-3 and 1-2 (winning in overtime at Houston) on the road.

Next up is Dwight Howard, who averages nearly four offensive rebounds a game by himself.

Records: Mavs (29-23); Magic (32-19)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Amway Center

TV: ESPN, FSSW

Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: The rotation is certainly getting interesting with 14 games to go. Delonte West made his return Thursday at Miami, logging just eight minutes. He made all three of his shots and his playing time is surely going to start trending upward. Where that leaves Rodrigue Beaubois, who played less than 15 minutes and was scoreless with one assist, is up in the air. And will Lamar Odom's minutes rise if he continues to play well? Could he see more time at small forward, which would decrease Vince Carter's minutes there? It's a possibility that might not be a bad thing.

Key matchup: Brendan Haywood vs. Dwight Howard

The Mavs' big man was in uniform Thursday at Miami, but did not play because he was being spared a back-to-back off the bat and was being saved to go against Dwight Howard and the Magic. It's quite the assignment for his return. Haywood has not played since March 15 and that was just for 15 minutes before he sprained his right knee. Howard is averaging 20.9 points and 14.5 rebounds.

Injuries: Mavs -- C Brendan Haywood (sprained right ankle) expects to play tonight. Magic -- None.

Up next: Los Angeles Clippers at Mavs, 7:30 p.m. Monday