Dallas Mavericks: Yao Ming
The list of teams that can match the Lakers’ tradition is awfully short.
|Mark Cuban joins ESPN Dallas GameDay to discuss the Mavericks' plans, the free-agent market and what possibilities there are for Dallas.
Of course, all-time great big men are a big part of the Lakers’ championship tradition. George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal set a sky-high standard for centers who wear purple and gold. That might not necessarily help the Lakers’ cause in trying to keep Howard.
There’s a ton of pressure that comes along with following that line of legends in the nation’s second largest media market. Shaq’s disdain for Dwight, which manifests itself in many nationally televised verbal jabs, doesn’t help matters. There’s a theory that Howard would prefer to create a different path instead of simply following Shaq’s Orlando-to-Los Angeles footsteps.
|Galloway & Company discuss Chris Paul's situation with the Clippers. Paul is unhappy being linked to the firing of his former coach. Could he join the Mavericks?
How heavily will that weigh on the mind of a man who has made it clear he’s searching for happiness this summer?
If Howard goes to Houston, he’ll be constantly compared to Hakeem Olajuwon, a Hall of Famer and two-time Finals MVP.
To a lesser degree, there will also be comparisons to Moses Malone and Yao Ming. However, as dominant as Malone was during his Houston days, he never won a ring with the Rockets and isn’t a Houston legend. Ming only got out of the first round once during his injury-abbreviated career.
The Rockets have tradition, but it’s been years since Houston has been considered a legitimate contender. Over the last decade and a half, the Rockets have been a distant third among NBA franchises in this state. The scrutiny wouldn’t be anywhere close to as suffocating as it is in L.A.
All due respect to James Donaldson and Tyson Chandler, but Howard would be the best big man in Mavs history as soon as he tied his shoes. There could still be some unflattering comparisons for Howard when it comes to Chandler’s excellent intangibles, but there’s no question that Howard is the superior center.
While only one championship banner hangs on the Mavs’ side of the American Airlines Center, this franchise has established an impressive winning tradition during Mark Cuban’s ownership tenure. (Or during Dirk Nowitzki’s career, if you want to assign credit to the man who did more heavy lifting.)
The Mavs and Rockets can’t stack up to the Lakers’ tremendous tradition, but that might be a good thing in the Dwight sweepstakes this summer.
EDGE: That all depends on Dwight’s mindset … which infamously can change with the wind.
Then I had to adjust it to the best dunks of modern-day Mavs history. Hey, my memory is foggy and YouTube is lacking on dunk footage from the Reunion Rowdy days.
Dunks victimizing Mavericks don’t count in this conversation, so don’t bother bringing up Tracy McGrady rocking Shawn Bradley into retirement or Kevin Durant dropping Brendan Haywood off on the 10th floor. Only dunks by Dallas players were considered.
With some help from my Twitter followers, I put together a six-pack of sick Mavs slams with accompanying YouTube links.
Yao-zers: Who cares about a one-foot height disadvantage? Not Michael Finley, who punched it hard on Yao Ming’s head after catching Cuttino Mobley cheating on a pick.
Vintage Vinsanity: Half Man, Half Amazing still has it in him. He left no doubt about that a couple of weeks into his Dallas tenure, driving baseline by New Orleans’ Marco Belinelli and putting big man Emeka Okafor on a poster.
Delivering on the Mailman: Finley slashed past three Jazz defenders, took off at the charge circle and threw down a tomahawk in Hall of Famer Karl Malone’s face. (Clip is about 25 seconds into the highlight package after a couple of Finley dunks on the Mavs while wearing a Spurs uniform.)
Take Dat Wit Chu!: Guest color commentator Dirk Nowitzki’s classic call became part of Mavs’ lore, but Tyson Chandler’s dunk stands on its own. It was the most memorable of Chandler’s many alley-oop finishes on lobs from Jason Kidd in the big man’s lone season with the Mavs. Chandler soared over a pair of Raptors for the ferocious two-handed finish on a pick-and-roll.
JET takes off: Chandler was on the wrong end of this one, the best of a pretty impressive collection of driving dunks by the 6-foot-2 Terry. After blowing by a Hornets defender near the top of the key, Terry took off from a step outside the charge circle, cocked the ball back and threw it down hard with two hands despite contact from the wanna-be shot-blocking big man.
Kiddin’ with Trix: Kidd puts the ball high off the glass on a fast break against the Clippers and leaves the hard work to Shawn Marion, who soars for the two-handed slam as Steve Blake (and a ballboy trying to mop up sweat) scramble to get out of the way.
|Ben and Skin weigh in on the rumors circulating around NBA free agents. Will a max contract offer lure Tyson Chandler away from the Mavs?
The Mavs go in with the clear edge to re-sign the big man. And, Chandler might not find a better spot than Dallas to contend for a title this season. Still, he'll have options and big bucks waiting with every suitor. Here's a quick take on five teams, in no particular order, that could make a hard charge:
Minnesota might seem like the NBA's Siberia and, well, it's hard to argue that isn't. But, is that about to change? Don Nelson thinks so. That's why the Hall of Fame coach lobbied hard for that job after the T'Wolves called it curtains for Kurt Rambis. Veteran mastermind Rick Adelman has the gig and don't you know he'd -- well -- love a frontcourt of Chandler and double-double machine Kevin Love? Spanish phenom Ricky Rubio will finally make his NBA debut, joining a roster that can at least be described as intriguing with Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver. This move would take a real leap of faith on Chandler's part, but Minnesota hasn't had an outlook this bright since Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell had a firm grip on the franchise.
The Kings could be just a season away from moving to Anaheim. Chandler is more of a San Bernardino County guy than Orange County, but nevertheless he could potentially play very close to home and family. The Kings are nowhere close to contending, but laid-back coach Paul Westphal, a Southern California guy himself, has some interesting, young talent with Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, J.J. Hickson and rookies Isaiah Thomas and "The Jimmer" (Jimmer Fredette). Center Samuel Dalembert is a free agent and could return with the right deal. The Kings are substantially below the salary cap and will have to spend some dough just to get to the cap minimum. Adelman, the T'Wolves coach proved that small-market Sacramento can contend.
This is a team that might be ready to pop with a nice mix of young talent and proven veterans returning for Doug Collins' second season. Coming off a playoff appearance and under new ownership, the goals are heightened. Six players averaged in double-digits last season and that doesn't include Evan Turner. The missing ingredient here is an athletic, rebounding center.The 76ers could use the amnesty provision to jettison Andres Nocioni, which would allow Philly to make a legitimate offer for Chandler. After the aging Boston Celtics, the Atlantic Division is wide open.
New Jersey Nets
Superman, aka Dwight Howard, is the man the Nets want to pair with Deron Williams and ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Chad Ford report that they're serious about trading for Howard and soon. The Nets still plan to hit free agency hard and Denver's Nene and Chandler are at the top of the list. Brook Lopez has proven he can score, but he doesn't rebound like a 7-footer should. The Nets have cap space and will have more if they amnesty Travis Outlaw. Avery Johnson's team is hardly loaded, but with Williams at the helm and a move to Brooklyn coming, Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov will do whatever it takes to buy a winner and steal the spotlight from Manhattan.
The Yao Ming dynasty is over in H-town. The Rockets know life in the Southwest Division isn't easy and subtracting an integral player from the defending champs while helping themselves in the process would be a coup for Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Houston is positioned to make a move for Chandler and add him to a roster that includes Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and young forward Patrick Patterson. At times last season the Rockets looked like a 6-foot-and-under team in comparison to the competition and Chandler's rebounding and defense would quickly take care of that little issue.
Teams will play about two more games per month, according to the report, and each team will play a back-to-back-to-back at least once, but no more than three times.
Off days in the second round of the playoffs will also be limited.
The 48 conference games are just four fewer than in a regular 82-game season, but it leaves just 18 out-of-conference, meaning teams will not visit every NBA city. In an 82-game schedule, teams play once in every out-of-conference city. The Dallas Mavericks would sure like to keep a date in Washington D.C. to make their championship visit to President Obama at the White House.
The Mavs were scheduled to play in D.C. during the preseason and their lone stop on the pre-lockout, 82-game schedule had them playing at the Wizards on Jan. 10. The league will re-script each team's schedule. The Mavs are expected to keep their Christmas Day home game against the Miami Heat to open the season and then their schedule will change from there.
It's undetermined how many games each team will play within its division. The Southwest Division should be one of the tougher, if not the toughest divisions in basketball with the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs, who finished with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season, the Chris Paul-led New Orleans Hornets, who pressed the Lakers in the first round, the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies, who upset the Spurs in the first round and the re-tooling Houston Rockets after the retirement of Yao Ming.
Last season the Mavs finished 8-8 in the Southwest Division (and 27-9 against the rest of the Western Conference). How Dallas fared in its division:
vs. San Antonio: 1-3
vs. Memphis: 1-3
vs. Houston: 4-0
vs. New Orleans: 2-2
Here's how the NBA breaks down the 66-game schedule from a release it sent out Sunday night:
Regular Season End Date: April 26, 2012
Playoffs Start Date: April 28, 2012
Last Possible Finals Date: June 26, 2012
Conference Games: 48
" Play 6 teams 4 times (2 home, 2 away)
" Play 4 teams 3 times (2 home, 1 away)
" Play 4 teams 3 times (1 home, 2 away)
Non-Conference Games: 18
" Play 3 teams 2 times (1 home, 1 away)
" Play 6 teams 1 time at home
" Play 6 teams 1 time away
Back to Back to Backs: All teams with at least 1; no more than 3
Playoff Back to Backs: Possible in second round
It isn’t nearly as clever as Kevin Love’s commercial for the cologne NUMB#RS, which is well on its way to becoming a YouTube sensation. The Timberwolves included that video along with a bottle of cologne, an print advertisement featuring Love and a model with his accomplishments listed on the back and a bottle of face lotion to Western Conference coaches. A Web site – 612allstar.com – was also created to promote Love.
The Mavs took a much more low-key route with their Chandler campaign. They made a simple video of Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler making a case for the center and sent it to the voting committee.
“Get his ass in,” Dirk said, summing up the gist of the video.
“His play is compelling enough to me,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I know he’ll get consideration. It’s a tough year for everybody because there are so many guys that are good players, but with Yao [Ming] being out, there’s a possibility that he could end up on the All-Star team. There are very few guys who have gone to new teams this year and have had the impact that he’s had on our team this year.”
Chandler’s chances depend on whether the West coaches (or commissioner David Stern) want at least one true center on the West roster. Stern has a say because he is responsible for choosing the replacement starter for injured Yao.
The Mavs firmly believe that if a big man makes the West roster, it should be Chandler, who wasn’t even included on the All-Star ballot.
“Name a center in the west better than him? Don’t worry I’ll wait,” Jason Terry tweeted Friday morning (and Shawn Marion retweeted later in the day).
New Orleans’ Emeka Okafor (11.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.77 blocks) and Denver’s Nene (15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds) are other center candidates worth considering. The Lakers’ Andrew Bynum has been limited to 22 games due to injuries, so it seems he would be a stretch.
It’s possible, however, that the commissioner could choose to plug a forward/center such as San Antonio’s "Tim Duncan or the Lakers’ Pau Gasol into the starting lineup. That could be considered the logical way to go with the glut of great forwards in the West.
The Mavs hope coaches look beyond Chandler’s solid but unspectacular numbers (9.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks) and focus on the impact he’s made in his first season in Dallas. The 30-15 Mavs, who are in third place in the West, have considered Chandler their emotional leader and defensive backbone almost since the moment he arrived in Dallas.
“If you talk about guys who have had an impact on the team and basically changed the culture, that’s Tyson Chandler,” owner Mark Cuban said. “He’s probably done that better than anybody in the league this year.”
Chandler’s first All-Star appearance would be especially meaningful with the game in Los Angeles this season. He wouldn’t mind having to hustle up dozens of tickets for friends and family, although he didn’t want to estimate how many tickets he’d have to find.
“I don’t even want to think that far ahead,” Chandler said. “I just want a spot on the team.”
The Mavs are trying to help make that happen.
Next Thursday, seven reserves will be selected by the coaches of each conference to round out the 12-man rosters. The most hotly contested position is forward in the West with Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Zach Randolph, David West, Lamar Odom and Rudy Gay all with solid cases to be selected as an All-Star.
Nowitzki would figure to be a shoe-in as he seeks his 10th consecutive All-Star appearance. He was an MVP candidate before his injury on Dec. 27, averaging 24.1 points on 54.5-percent shooting and 7.4 rebounds.
Duncan, who has played in 12 consecutive All-Star games and started 11 in a row, also figures to be a selection with the Spurs rolling at 39-7. He could be selected by commissioner David Stern to replace Yao Ming, who was voted in by fans as the starting center.
Stern could also select Gasol with the game being played at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Either selection would at least open one more spot for a deserving player.
The Mavs are hopeful that Stern will simply promote Andrew Bynum, the second-place finisher at center, and then use the backup center position to select Tyson Chandler, who has had a tremendous impact on the Mavs but was not included on the All-Star ballot.
Perhaps the most intriguing position is forward for the Western Conference. Carmelo Anthony, assuming he isn't traded to an Eastern Conference team beforehand, and Kevin Durant, are leading the fans' vote to start the Feb. 20 All-Star Game held at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Then the coaches must choose, maybe as many as four reserves from the following pool of worthy candidates: Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love.
While some -- OK, one -- has made the suggestion that the coaches should bypass Nowitzki this year, that just isn't going to happen despite a knee injury that sidelined him for nine games and has taken a toll on his shooting percentage. Before his injury on Dec. 27, Nowitzki was averaging 24.1 points on a blistering 54.5-percent shooting.
"During that period of time, he was the MVP [of the league] in my opinion," Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "His value to us -- he’s priceless to us."
No MVP candidate will be left off the All-Star team. The coaches could catch a slight break if NBA commissioner David Stern selects Tim Duncan to replace the injured Yao Ming, the fans' nonsensical vote to start at center. Duncan is technically a power forward, but he's as close as it gets to a pure center and the most sensible candidate to replace Yao.
What if Stern doesn't select Duncan? Do you really think the coaches leave him off the team? Duncan has made every All-Star Game since he entered the league and according to Carlisle's standards for voting, he would seem a shoe-in even though his statistics, for various reasons, are not at his career levels.
"The thing that I’ll tell you and I’ll be very frank is that the coaches' vote is always tipped heavily toward winning," Carlisle said. 'I’m no different than the rest of the voters. I think that’s a major factor in who gets the votes. Those guys are 37-4 [38-7] or something. You got to take a strong look at that, that Duncan’s on a team that’s winning every game. That’s a big deal and it should be. As we get closer to it and I look at it, it’s going to be some difficult votes for sure."
The game is in Los Angeles, so how can coaches leave Gasol (18.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg) off the team? And what about the Clips' rookie sensation and dunkmeister Griffin (22.9 ppg, 12.9 rpg), who has made the other L.A. team relevant in all of half a season?
But, if winning is such a significant factor, would the Clippers' 17-27 record hold Griffin back? If it does, what chance does rebounding machine Kevin Love, playing for the 10-34 Timberwolves, have of making his first All-Star squad? Love, a UCLA product, is averaging 21.4 points and 15.6 rebounds and became the first player to record a 30-30 game (30 points, 31 rebounds) since Moses Malone did it in 1982.
"There’s a few games until [selections are due] and you look at all that stuff," Carlisle said. "Kevin Love is having a great year, having a breakout year. And so he’s a guy that will get consideration for sure."
About as easily as you can explain how Dallas Mavericks backup center Brendan Haywood placed third among West centers after the NBA released the first tabulation of All-Star votes last week. How many All-Stars do you know have a DNP-CD on their season's record and average fewer than four points a game?
Yao has played in just five games this season before sadly re-injuring his foot. He's likely done for the season, and there is real concern that he might be forced into retirement. The Chinese big man still leads West centers with 754,583 votes after the lastest results were released Thursday. The Los Angeles Lakers' Andrew Bynum, who has played just 12 games on the season since returning from injury, is second (493,237) and would start the game on his home floor in L.A., if he remains second, and it would appear he will.
Bynum holds a healthy lead over Denver's Nene (292,829 ), Memphis' Marc Gasol (263,000), and finally Haywood (245,737), who slipped to sixth and doesn't figure to make a surge unless Mavs fans are placed under a spell by Mark Cuban and ordered to stuff the ballot boxes. Of course, if Mavs fans want to look smart, they'll write in starting center Tyson Chandler, who has effectively changed the defensive mindset of the club and is not on the NBA's official ballot.
Unless the West coaches vote Chandler in, Dirk Nowitzki looks as though he'll be the lone Mavs representative. He'll have to be a coach's pick as well. Despite averaging 24.1 points on 54.5 percent shooting and having an MVP-caliber season, Nowitzki currently sits sixth in fan voting with 518,682 among forwards. The Mavs' opponent tonight, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant trails only guard Kobe Bryant in total votes among West players with 945,944 and is the top vote-getter at forward.
Carmelo Anthony (742,284), Pau Gasol (702,859), Tim Duncan (551,226) and slammin' rookie Blake Griffin (540,701) are all ahead of Nowitzki.
Other Mavs on the ballot? Jason Kidd (260,569) is the only one registering votes among the top 10 at their position. Kidd, an injury replacement for last year's game at Cowboys Stadium, sits eighth behind Bryant (1,391,597), Chris Paul (724,605), Manu Ginobili (504,123), Steve Nash (397,975), Deron Williams (384,515), Russell Westbrook (327,453) and Tony Parker (298,771).
Caron Butler (186,626) was 10th among forwards.
The concept, in other words, is hardly new.
The reality for the Mavs, furthermore, is that essentially nothing has changed over the past few weeks with regard to their chances of emerging as a feared factor in the Melo bidding.
The subject nonetheless received a significant (and overstated) amount of national attention this week until things came to deeply sad halt Wednesday, when the Nuggets began to inform teams that Anthony trade talks were being placed on an indefinite hold out of respect to their All-Star forward after the death of his 36-year-old sister caused by a pre-existing medical condition.
The following five-point update is where a variety of trade issues stood from the Mavericks' perspective before the sudden and tragic halt to the Melo trade chase, which is expected to put all Anthony-related discussions on hold until after Christmas:
* The Nuggets, according to sources briefed on the teams' discussions to date, have greeted the Mavericks' inquiries with "nothing but pushback" every time they’ve called to check on the status of Anthony's availability. Reason being: Dallas can't come close to the package the New Jersey Nets can assemble, which includes two probable lottery picks in addition to prized rookie Derrick Favors. One source close to the process says Denver remains "heavily" focused on trying to complete a deal with New Jersey, while New York obviously continues to rank as the other standout team in the Melo chase because the Knicks are overwhelmingly regarded around the league as Anthony’s favored destination. Most GMs agree that, at this point, there is no No. 3 option … Dallas or otherwise.
* There's really only one way that the Melo landscape can change sufficiently for Dallas (or Houston, Charlotte and anyone else willing to "rent" Melo) to get seriously involved: New Jersey would have to pull completely out of the bidding. And that would only happen if Melo tells the Nets face to face that he is refusing to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension as part of an "extend-and-trade," which is what Boston pulled off in July 2007 when it acquired Kevin Garnett from Minnesota and got his signature on a new deal in the process. ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan reported Dec. 12 that Anthony plans to do just that if the Nuggets and Nets finally reach terms on a trade -- which might or might not involve other teams as facilitators -- because of his deep desire to join Amare Stoudemire with the Knicks. The Nets, though, continue to believe that Anthony's stated determination to sign the extension before the next labor deal kicks in (June 30 is the deadline) and the ability of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part owner Jay-Z to sell him on the team's future in Brooklyn will sway him when the time comes.
* Even the Mavericks' appetite for smaller deals, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, has lessened somewhat thanks to a scorching 23-5 start that has made it Dallas' growing priority to preserve the team's current chemistry. Reserve center Alexis Ajinca, for example, has been available since Dallas acquired him as a throw-in from Charlotte in the Tyson Chandler deal and remains the most likely Mav to be dealt. The Mavs, though, are said to be getting more choosy about what they'd expect in exchange for Ajinca, since there will always be a premium on a still-developing young big man in the NBA.
* You probably won't be surprised to hear that there is essentially no external interest bubbling for Brendan Haywood, given that this is Year 1 on a contract with $41.7 million guaranteed over five years and the swiftness with which Haywood (shooting 25.5 percent from the free-throw line) has fallen behind Tyson Chandler in the Mavs' pecking order. Orlando just proved no one is untradeable with the Rashard Lewis-for-Gilbert Arenas deal, but Haywood is high on the list of trade improbables with so many teams out there averse to taking on long-term contracts when they don't know how restrictive the next collective bargaining agreement will be. I’ve likewise been assured in the strongest terms that Houston, even after losing Yao Ming to a potentially career-ending setback, is not looking at Haywood as a potential replacement and has made that clear to the Mavs, despite what has been reported in some precincts locally. "Less than zero interest" is the way one source with knowledge of the Rockets' thinking jokingly described it. Which is why the similarly reported notion that offering up Haywood could somehow put the Mavs in play for longtime Mavs favorite Kevin Martin -- whom Dallas pursued unsuccessfully last season before the Rockets acquired Martin from Sacramento -- has been politely ignored here.
(PS -- For those of you who love NBA contract minutiae, Haywood’s $10,522,500 salary in 2015-16 is fully unguaranteed as long as he is waived on or before Aug, 1, 2015.)
That doesn't seem logical, considering the red-hot Mavs have won five in a row, including wins over a few healthy teams expected to make some playoff noise. But it would fit the trend the Mavs established last season, when they lost a handful of games to teams missing their stars.
Heck, the Warriors walked out of the AAC with a win last year despite having only six available players. The Rockets, minus Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks, are capable of beating the Mavs if the home team goes through the motions.
Coach Rick Carlisle is well aware of that, but he doesn’t have a rah-rah speech ready to make sure his team is properly motivated.
“Those guys have heard every speech there is to hear about focusing and staying hungry,” Carlisle said. “We’ve worked hard to get ourselves on a bit of a roll here, and we’ll see how we respond tonight. I can’t guarantee that we aren’t going to go out there and struggle.”
The Mavs will play 19 of their first 31 games at American Airlines Center, but will be put to the test starting in February with 21 of their final 35 games coming on the road. Now, just because the early season keeps the Mavs in their cozy confines doesn't mean they'll be able to kick back and count the wins. The October-November slate is an absolute bear with the silver lining being that 10 of those first 17 games are at home. The Mavs will probably start the season without exciting guard Roddy Beaubois (broken foot), a disappointing scenario as they seek an 11th consecutive season of 50 wins and a third under coach Rick Carlisle.
Can they do it?
Here's my month-by-month look at the schedule:
October/November (17 games: 10 home, 7 away)
December (14 games: 9 home, 5 away)
Yes, the Mavs again get a nice, long stay at home, including a season-long six-game homestand from Dec. 7-17, and it would be nice to clean up on their home floor (remember how poorly the Mavs played at times at home last season), but the schedule remains awfully challenging. Dallas gets two looks at Al Jefferson in a Utah Jazz uniform, first in Salt Lake City (Dec. 3) where the Mavs struggle mightily, and then at the ACC (Dec. 11). The Mavs had a chance to pounce on Jefferson, but backed out and the Jazz made the deal with Minnesota to acquire the low-post scorer. The improved Milwaukee Bucks (Dec. 13), plus the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns wrap up the six-game homestand and set up another killer end-of-the-month slate. It starts with a rugged, back-to-back pre-Christmas Florida trip at Miami (Dec. 20) and Orlando (Dec. 21). After a five-day Christmas break, things resume at home against the Toronto Raptors (Dec. 28) and then the Spurs.
January (16 games: 8 home, 8 away)
February (12 games: 3 home, 9 away)
This will be an important month for the Mavs with such a road-heavy schedule, but the real work might be going on in the club's front office. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has made it no secret that the Mavs will be looking to strike big at the February trade line. There will be several players under expiring contracts who will be wondering if they're staying or going, including Caron Butler, who was acquired at last season's deadline, and newly acquired center Tyson Chandler. On the floor, only half of the 12 games are against playoff teams. The notable exception is a home game against the new-look and considerably downgraded Cleveland Cavaliers (Feb. 7). Of course, a road trip to Houston (Feb. 12) is a fair replacement -- assuming full health -- as a playoff-caliber opponent that wasn't a year ago. A three-game road trip starts the month at Madison Square Garden against Amare Stoudemire and the re-made New York Knicks, then onto Boston and Charlotte. Despite the rough road schedule, this has to be a month where the Mavs make up ground heading into a brutal month of March.
March (16 games, 7 home, 9 away)
April (7 games: 4 home, 3 away)
Dallas can finish strong with four of their final five games at home. They start the month with one final back-to-back at Golden State and Portland (April 2-3) and play a final road game at Houston (April 11). The final home stretch includes Denver, the Clippers, Phoenix and New Orleans to wraup up the regular season on April 13.
Yes, the Mavs will make it 11 consecutive seasons with 50 wins -- but with little margin for error.
My final prediction: 52-30.
Houston's visit to American Airlines Center figured to be another prime opportunity for Mavs coach Rick Carlisle to take a couple in-game looks at the most potent offensive lineup he can put on the floor: Jason Kidd and Jason Terry in the backcourt, Josh Howard and Shawn Marion at the forwards and Dirk Nowitzki masquerading as a center.
Yet we never saw that unit.
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images
Erick Dampier had 14 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in the Mavericks' win over Houston on Tuesday.
After testing that group out twice in Saturday's cakewalk against Toronto, Carlisle didn't see an opening or need to bring it back in Tuesday night's 121-103 trouncing of the Rockets, even though Houston routinely plays plenty of small ball with Yao Ming out for the season and the undersized Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry serving as its main Yao fill-ins.
It would appear that Erick Dampier convinced his coach not to go that route.
Dampier was so dominant against the Rockets -- with 14 points, 20 boards and three blocks -- that Carlisle was understandably motivated to ride him. On the occasions Dallas did go small against Houston, Drew Gooden was given the opportunity to log nearly 17 minutes of center play after missing four games with a strained rib-cage muscle.
The Mavs, though, still have high aspirations for what Kidd simply refers to as a "dangerous lineup for us." Howard's slower-than-expected recovery from offseason ankle and wrist surgery wiped out that the fivesome's opportunity to get reps in the exhibition season, but the brief glimpses against Toronto were well-received by the coaching staff.
In a lot of ways, Marion -- not Nowitzki -- takes on most of the responsibilities of a center for that unit. He can start the fast break with his rebounding ability to push the ball and has already impressed folks internally with his passing touch and knack for getting inside on pick-and-rolls. Marion, furthermore, is the Mav most likely to be guarded by opposing centers in that alignment, because teams aren't about to keep a five man for long on the versatile Nowitzki. Dirk's role and offensive approach, remember, don't change even when he's the biggest Mav on the floor.
But there's also little reason to stray from the conventional when Dampier is playing like this. It's still way early, obviously, but he's giving Dallas even more than even the biggest optimists out there -- knowing that the 34-year-old has to deliver in what's effectively a contract year -- were expecting.
Dampier ranks No. 1 among Western Conference centers in blocked shots (2.57 swats per game), second in rebounding (11.1 boards per game) and tops the entire league in shooting percentage (70 percent from the floor) while averaging 9.6 points. He's also rung up three double-doubles in just seven games after averaging only 8.6 double-doubles per season in his first five seasons as a Mav.
Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNDallas.com.
DALLAS -- No Yao Ming. No Tracy McGrady. No quit.
That sums up the Houston Rockets, who make an appearance at the American Airlines Center on Tuesday night. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle calls the 4-2 Rockets "the hardest-playing team in the league."
"The challenge with Houston is to meet their level of intensity, posture, all those kinds of things," Carlisle said. "If you don't do that, they're going to kick your ass. That's what they've been doing to teams."
Becoming tougher was one of the Mavericks' offseason priorities. They believe they accomplished that with additions such as Shawn Marion, Quinton Ross and Drew Gooden, who hopes to make his return from a rib cage injury against the Rockets.
"We'll find out how tough we are on Tuesday night," Carlisle said. "I like our team and all that, but this is a different kind of test than we've had."
Mavericks alumnus Jerry Stackhouse is arguably the most prominent free agent in the league still looking for a job.
But that's largely because the 34-year-old, twice an All-Star, is determined to wait for a firm offer from a certain playoff team.
Sources close to the situation say that Stackhouse was promptly called by the Houston Rockets earlier this month when the Rockets -- after inviting Rashad McCants to Rockets camp on a non-guaranteed contract -- decided they could not go through with their intended signing of McCants because the swingman was sidelined by an abdominal injury just before camp opened.
The Rockets, though, wanted Stackhouse to come to camp to compete with three other players leading contender and former Mavs teammate Pops Mensah-Bonsu along with summer-league guards Will Conroy and Garrett Temple -- for their final roster spot. The combination of that stipulation and Houston's expected slide into the lottery, with Yao Ming expected to miss the entire season and Tracy McGrady facing an uncertain return from knee surgery, prompted Stackhouse to pass.
Atlanta, Denver and Miami are said to be three situations that greatly intrigue Stackhouse after he worked out some with the Hawks late in the offseason and with both the Nuggets and Heat known to have a need at his position. Yet all three of those teams would like to carry 13 players this season instead of the maximum 15 because of luxury-tax concerns and/or want players with non-guaranteed contracts at the end of their rosters to maintain maximum flexibility.
Stackhouse, McCants and Wally Szczerbiak would appear to be the three most accomplished NBA swingmen who remain unsigned. Chances are, though, that Stackhouse is bound to get a call he wants to take before long, once injuries start piling up or when teams' holes become more glaring than they are in mid-October, when coaches and executives are generally fond of their squads.
Stackhouse auditioned for New York over the summer and insists that he has fully recovered from the plantar fasciitis that conspired to limit him to just 10 games with Dallas last season, which was followed by Stackhouse's inclusion in the four-team deal in July that brought Shawn Marion to the Mavs. The Memphis Grizzlies wound up with Stackhouse when they were recruited to help facilitate the Marion trade and paid $2 million to buy out his $7 million expiring contract for this season.
"I'm just happy to be healthy and able to compete again," Stackhouse said in August. "That's the most important thing. I'm just happy to get back to play. . . I think teams know what I bring to the table when I'm healthy."