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Monday, March 26, 2012
Week ahead: Health, Dwyane Wade & D12

By Jeff Caplan

Is this the week?

The week that the Dallas Mavericks finally become whole?

The week this team just maybe begins to come together? Begins to show what kind of team it can be?

With 16 regular-season games left and the West standings more gummed up than Woodall Rodgers, it is time for all hands on deck. It might happen Tuesday against the Houston Rockets. If the Mavs don't get both center Brendan Haywood and guard Delonte West back, then Haywood will likely return first. West, out since he gruesomely fractured his right ring finger on Feb. 15, will not be far behind.

"Every game is big now," said Shawn Marion, who has played the last two games since missing three with a sore left knee. "We’re in such a close race for the postseason, and everybody is pulling together."

They must.

The schedule is brutal from a competition standpoint this week. The frequency of games has eased up, and the Mavs have to use that to their advantage. After all, when's the last time they played just three games in one full week? That said, it comes with one heck of a back-to-back through South and then Central Florida.

"We’re fighting now. We’re fighting every night we go out on the floor," guard Jason Terry said. "Each game is very critical for us, as far as playoff positioning. It’s been a tough season, but overall I like the effort of everybody. We’re doing what we have to collectively as a group to have success."

They can only hope they'll be fighting with a full force for the first time in a long time.

Tuesday: vs.  Houston Rockets (26-23), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Last game, it was the Rockets waiting at home for the Mavs to get to town after playing the night before at San Antonio. This time around, Dallas will have had two days off since their 101-99 OT win at Houston on Saturday, while the Rockets will be wrapping up a homestand Monday night against Sacramento. Their game at the Mavs will be a fourth in six nights and Houston will still be without Kyle Lowry (bacteria infection) and likely without Kevin Martin (strained right shoulder), who has not played or practiced since March 11. But as everyone saw in the first meeting of the season, these no-name Rockets are a tough bunch.

Thursday: at  Miami Heat (35-12), 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: TNT/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Mavs make their first trip to Miami since that magical night of June 12, 2011. They'd like to show that their re-crafted title team is not the same one that played dead on the Christmas Day opener and allowed the Heat to roll over it. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Miami crew will be well rested, with two days off prior to the matchup. And be sure that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company will still be seeking retribution for what went down on their home floor last June. The Heat are 20-2 at home and haven't lost there since Jan. 22 -- to Milwuakee.

Friday: at Orlando Magic (31-18), 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN, FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Again, the schedule-makers don't do the Mavs any favors on this demanding back-to-back, because the Magic will have a day off and won't have played a back-to-back since March 17-18. Orlando has been up and down all season, and when they're up they're busting 3-pointers. The Magic rank third in the NBA in 3-point percentage, knocking down 38.3 percent. Then there's the inside threat with the big man, Superman, who won't become a free agent this summer, Dwight Howard. Mark Cuban can daydream about Howard all he wants, but his team better be ready for 21.0 points and 14.8 rebounds, best in the league.