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Has the Schedule Hardened the Mavericks?

Dallas was on the road for 12 of 16 January games. Will that rough stretch help them long-term?

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Players often talk about how an 82-game NBA season can be long and grueling. Oftentimes, the schedule can be toughest on teams during long road trips.

Teams on the East and West Coasts might have it hardest because of the extended road trips to the opposite side of the country that can often last six or seven games and run through several cities. The Orlando Magic endured a six-game road trip that stretched from the end of November to the beginning of December, which included stops at Indiana, Phoenix, Golden State, Los Angeles, Utah and Sacramento. The team was able to split that trip by winning three of those games, but some teams aren’t as fortunate.

The Dallas Mavericks are a prime example of a team hitting a rough patch in the schedule.

During the month of January, the Mavericks played 12 out of their 16 games on the road and finished out the month by playing eight games in 13 nights. The team managed to go 8-4 during those 12 road games, but went 1-3 in the four games at home. A four-game skid left some concerned about the team, but they have rebounded after posting back-to-back wins against the Miami HEAT and Magic.

By comparison, the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies played fewer games on the road and both posted a better record in January than the Mavericks. The Warriors went 12-3 in the month and played in just four road games while the Grizzlies were 12-4 and appeared in seven road games. The Mavericks also played four sets of back-to-back games while the Warriors played in just three sets and the Grizzlies in two. Even though the team has spent a lot of time on the road this season (only the Magic have played more road games), the Mavs aren’t looking for sympathy from anyone.

“It’s tough, but everybody has these stretches,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “The schedule is a little more compressed this year because of a longer All-Star break. Down the road, there is a possibility of reduction of exhibition games – it’s been talked about [how] that could alleviate some of this. I know [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] is looking at everything because there’s no getting around the fact that an NBA season is going to have some volatile travel periods.

“Each team has to manage it the best way that they can. We want to have as many high-level players as we can, we got to have a lot of guys that we can trust out there.”

Hitting a rough patch in the season can be detrimental to a team, especially to one in the competitive Western Conference where teams are so close together in the standings. Entering Monday’s slate of games, the Mavericks are sixth in the conference with a 32-17 record that’s seven games back of the first-placed Warriors, but just four games ahead of the eighth-placed Phoenix Suns. A team can really find its identity as a group with how they can overcome the obstacles of a season.

“Even going through rough patches, nobody likes to go through them, but it does bring you closer as a team because you got to make adjustments,” Tyson Chandler said. “When you slide by and win close games, sometimes you think you’re a little better than you are. Sometimes it takes you to get knocked back down to make the proper adjustments for the long run. We had a lot of games this stretch, but come March after the All-Star break we’ll get our fair share of home games, which we got to do a better job of protecting.”

Leading the Mavericks through this stretch of games has been Monta Ellis. This has been one of the most productive seasons of Ellis’ 10-year career. Through 49 games, Ellis is averaging 20.4 points, 4.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game while posting the highest PER of his career at 19.14.

“He just did what he’s been doing the entire year and that’s closing games,” Chandler said of what Ellis brings to the team each night. “I thought throughout the entire game [against Orlando] he did an excellent job of penetrating and finding the right guy. He found me a couple of times in a row, found guys on the perimeter and then when they backed off, he created shots for himself.”

The Mavericks have also been able to remain so successful due to a deep bench filled with veterans. Devin Harris,  J.J. Barea, Charlie Villanueva, Richard Jefferson, Al-Farouq Aminu and Raymond Felton make up the team’s second unit and all but fifth-year Aminu have been in the league for at least eight seasons.

Dallas’ second unit ranks 13th in the league in bench points at 34.4 points per game and are fourth in field goal percentage at nearly 47 percent. The unit had one of its best showings of the season on Friday night in Miami. The Mavericks trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, but used a 37-2 run to eventually take the lead and win by 21 points. The bench was sparked by a season-high 20 points from Villanueva, 10 points from Aminu and nine from Harris.

“We got a great bench; a lot of professionals and guys that take their job serious,” Chandler said. “[Richard], Farouq, Greg [Smith] and Raymond can be starters on any other team but we’re very deep. When coach calls their number, they’re always ready to play and I think that’s where we are going to really benefit in the long run. We talked about it before the game, they got to bring that extra energy to kind of boost that second unit. It’s always good to see them when they get out there and play well.”

The team will need to find a way to capitalize on the rest of their season as 19 of their remaining 33 games will be at home. The team may also be able to gain some ground on some of the other teams in the conference as the Warriors play 11 out of their next 13 games on the road and the Grizzlies play eight out of their next 11 games on the road.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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