DALLAS -- We’re about to find out whether February has been fool’s gold for the Mavericks.
It’s been a phenomenal month for the Mavs, who have won 10 of their last 12 games, including a 9-2 record in February. They’ve managed to climb from eighth to sixth place in the Western Conference standings and have drastically increased their odds of making the playoffs. They've given reason to believe that a remodeled roster featuring nine new pieces has clicked after working out the getting-to-know-you kinks for the first half of the season.
But don’t get too carried away with the Mavs’ recent success. Dirk Nowitzki certainly isn’t.
“I thought here in February we’d be winning some games,” Nowitzki said, “but really you look at the schedule and it's all games we're supposed to win.”
The Mavs’ road win just before the All-Star break over the Indiana Pacers, who have the NBA’s best record, is a notable exception. The other nine teams the Mavs have defeated during their hot streak, which started with a Jan. 31 win over the sad-sack Sacramento Kings, are a combined 123 games below .500.
Dallas deserves credit for handling its business against bad teams in a league that just saw the Cleveland Cavaliers win on the road against the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. And the Mavs have been winning convincingly, beating their February foes by an average of 7.3 points. (By comparison, the Pacers at 8.0 are the only team with a higher average margin of victory over the course of the regular season.)
But we might find out what the Mavs are made of over the next eight games, starting with Friday night’s home game against the rugged Chicago Bulls.
“The competition gets tougher,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “So it’s more physical, it’s harder to score, it’s harder to get stops. You’ve got to be that much more tied together, you’ve got to be that much more efficient and you’ve got to have that much more concentration on the boards.”
The Mavs will see only two sub-.500 opponents over that stretch, and both of those games are on the road. The other six games feature matchups against the top three teams in the West standings (Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers), a rematch with the Pacers and a visit to the Golden State Warriors that could have significant playoff-seeding implications.
“This stretch we've got coming up is pretty tough, a lot of good teams, some of them on the road, so it should be a good test,” Nowitzki said. “I think after Friday we only have a couple game left against the Eastern Conference and none on the road. The rest is just Western powerhouses. It's going to be tough, and if we want to make the playoffs, we've got to keep winning at a pretty high clip."
The Mavs must prove they can be a force when the schedule isn’t favorable.