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Monday, April 2, 2012
Week ahead: Rising up at home imperative

By Jeff Caplan

After playing just three games last week, it's back to the unforgiving grindstone for the Dallas Mavericks, who embark on what could be a monumental week with four intriguing games, three at home and three against two teams the Mavs are sandwiched between.

By the time this slate ends Saturday night at Memphis, Dallas will have nine games remaining. Opportunity is abundant ahead of them in the West standings, but peril also lurks below.

The question is, which way will the Mavs, precariously perched at No. 5, go?

"We got a huge week here,” coach Rick Carlisle said. "We’ve got to pick our game up and we’ve got to be good at home. There’s a lot to be decided. This week is going to go a long way toward a lot of those scenarios. The Clippers have been a quality, high-level team all year. Like everybody, they’ve had their ups and downs. But they’re a tough matchup for us."

With two days off after their stirring, 15-point turnabout at Orlando that officially ushered Delonte West back into the mix, will the Mavs be able to carry momentum into tonight's game against the curious Los Angeles Clippers? Vinny Del Negro remains the head coach. Since the stories of internal grumbling hit, L.A., the No. 4 seed and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mavs, has won five in a row.

The equally mysterious Memphis Grizzlies, a team that has Zach Randolph back but has won just four of its last 10 and has been awful on the road, are next up Wednesday. The No. 6-seeded Grizz begin the week a spot behind the Mavs in the standings, but actually with one fewer loss.

However, this is a doozy of a week for Memphis and tough timing for this matchup because it's the last of a dreaded back-to-back-to-back that starts at Oklahoma City on Monday then back to Memphis on Tuesday for Golden State and then on to Dallas (and it doesn't get better for the Grizzlies for Saturday's rematch in Memphis, see below).

The Mavs on Friday get the woebegone Trail Blazers, who come into Dallas having fired their coach and shuffled their deck, and with a 7-19 road record heading into the week.

These three home games mark half of what's left on the home schedule, meaning if the Mavs don't take care of business -- and they're just 19-8 at the AAC -- then playoff seeding and perhaps even just making the postseason will have to be secured on the road -- where they're a head-scratching 11-15.

With that, here's a look at this big week ahead:

Today: vs. Los Angeles Clippers (31-21), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Clips have lost 10 in a row in Dallas, including a 96-92 decision on Feb. 13. That was one of just four games the Mavs have won when trailing after three quarters. Caron Butler narrowly missed a go-ahead 3-pointer with five seconds left after Jason Kidd made an uncharacteristic turnover. The Clippers' string of five consecutive wins all came at home. They haven't played on the road since March 22 and haven't won the road since March 9, but it was a big one, 120-109 at San Antonio. The best news for Dallas is that West is back in the rotation and should give Shawn Marion a break from chasing around Chris Paul. L.A., just 11-13 on the road, didn't play Sunday after sweeping a back-to-back Friday and Saturday.

Wednesday: vs. Memphis Grizzlies (28-22), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Zach is back but he isn't quite yet all that. The Memphis big man has played nine games since tearing the MCL in his right knee on Jan. 1. He put up 25 points and nine rebounds in his return against Toronto, but since he's averaged 11.1 points and 7.3 rebounds while the team has gone just 4-5. Still, no one is going to want this bunch in the first round. The Grizz won easily in Memphis at the end of February and make their one and only appearance in Dallas this season. They've won three in a row in this series and seven of 11. Their size with Randolph and skilled center Marc Gasol are not only a problem on the defensive end, but Memphis can use both massive bodies to blanket Dirk Nowitzki.

Friday: vs. Portland Trail Blazers (25-28), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The last time the Blazers rolled through town, native son LaMarcus Aldridge was a freshly minted All-Star, Nate McMillan still had a job and Portland was still considered by some to be a title contender. Dallas won that Feb. 11 meeting in double overtime with a boost from West coming in cold for the second overtime as coach Carlisle pulled Kidd in the name of minute management. Who knows what to expect from the Blazers, who are just three games out of a playoff spot, this time around? They're 5-5 in their last 10 and took the Clippers to the buzzer before falling Friday night. One thing the Mavs can't do is sleep on this team or else it will be an angry flight to Memphis.

Saturday: at Memphis Grizzlies (28-22), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The standings could look much different by the time this game is played (see above) with the weeks these two teams have. And if you think the Grizzlies will be more rested for this one than they were in Wednesday's game in Dallas, don't be too sure. After playing Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, Memphis is back at it Friday night -- at Miami.