Thankfully, Dirk Nowitzki should play for the first time this season for the Dallas Mavericks at some point in December.
These game-by-game predictions for Dallas in December are going to be realistic. The big question is if the Mavs' 2012-13 playoff chances will be realistic after they play this fierce and frosty part of the schedule.
Regrettably, the Mavs are off to their worst start in over a decade; their 7-9 record through November means they better start winning before Dirk returns.
38-year-old Derek Fisher has moved to Big D
Saturday, December 1
The Mavs have a great opportunity to snap their three-game losing streak when they host Detroit Saturday night at the AAC. The Pistons are still one of the NBA's worst teams, even though they have won a season-high two straight games.
Derek Fisher signed with Dallas Thursday, and coach Rick Carlisle will probably start him immediately against the Pistons. Darren Collison is suffering from a slump and an injured finger, and Carlisle has been lacking a viable backup point guard. Roddy Beaubois has flamed out again, and Dominique Jones still has no jumper and often can't even make a layup.
The best part of Fisher getting off his couch is that Troy Murphy is on his way back to his. Carlisle gave Murphy numerous opportunities at the expense of Brandan Wright, and that experiment failed miserably.
Wright should get right back in the rotation with his 64.7 field goal percentage. His rebounding and defense still need to improve, but you could say that about the entire team.
Dallas won their only game against the Pistons in last year's lockout-shortened season, 100-86. Wright scored nine points in eight minutes on 4-5 field-goal shooting.
Prediction: Dallas defeats Detroit easily and improves their record to 8-9.
Wednesday, December 5
O.J. Mayo will go man-to-man against the veteran who advised him to join Dallas when the Mavs visit the LA Clippers.
Chauncey Billups is healthy again and has rejoined Chris Paul in the Clippers potent backcourt. Billups, who played for Rick Carlisle with the Detroit Pistons a decade ago, told Mayo that Carlisle could help his game substantially if he signed with Dallas.
That's exactly what happened this past summer, and Mayo responded magnificently on offense until a recent mini-slump. Billups was a good defender in his prime, but Mayo should be able torch him at this stage of their respective careers. For at least this one night, Chauncey will likely regret giving O.J. such helpful advice.
Defensively, it will be Darren Collison and Fisher who will have to contain Chris Paul. Of course, this is highly unlikely. CP3 was deferring to Jamal Crawford early on this season, but is starting find his own shot over the past week. Look for Paul to take over against the Mavs whenever he feels so inclined.
The Clippers lost 10 straight games to Dallas before winning two of three against the Mavs last season. Unfortunately, you can look for this changing of the guard to continue on Wednesday night.
Prediction: LA Clippers defeat Dallas and the Mavs' record falls to 8-10.
Thursday, December 6
Former Suns' All-Star Shawn Marion led Dallas with an 18.5 scoring average in four games against Phoenix last season. Look for that trend to continue in their first matchup of 2012-13 at US Airways Center.
Dirk Nowitzki will still be on the shelf for this game, so Marion's scoring role should again be a flashback to his glory days in Phoenix. Fellow veteran Vince Carter may also be featured after scoring 15.3 PPG against the Suns last season, surprisingly just a shade under Dirk's 16 PPG.
This season, Phoenix runs out a pair of former Houston Rockets in Luis Scola and Goran Dragić. In three games last season, Scola averaged 19.7 PPG against Dallas and the Mavs still don't have an answer for him.
Dragić, who averaged over 20 PPG for Houston last season against Dallas, will present another tough assignment for the Mavs' point guards. Dragić currently leads Phoenix in scoring, assists and steals. Dragić will also be feeding center Marcin Gortat, who averaged a Suns-high 18.5 PPG against the Mavs in 2011-12.
You don't need to double-check those numbers by the way. Marion and Gortat, both known for their defensive prowess, suddenly turn into scoring machines when the Mavs and Suns collide. It shows how unpredictable this particular game is.
The Suns won the last matchup 96-94 last March, and that game was also in Phoenix. However, the Mavs had won the previous eight contests in the series, often in lopsided fashion.
It's the second game in two nights for Dallas, but a short plane ride from Los Angeles to Phoenix.
Prediction: Dallas wins a squeaker at Phoenix and Mavs improve their record to 9-10.
The Mavericks have won seven straight games against the Rockets. However, when the teams tip-off in Houston for the first time in 2012-13, neither roster will resemble what we saw in 2011-12.
Dirk Nowitzki continued his dominance of Houston last season by averaging 29 points in three Mavs victories; you may also recall that Dirk outscored Tracy McGrady 53-48 in a Mavs overtime win eight Decembers ago. Keep reminiscing because Dirk will likely be in coat and tie for this year's December showdown.
O.J. Mayo and James Harden will try to out-gun each other, ala Dirk and T-Mac, in a battle of two new Texas sharpshooters. Both are prolific shooters, but Harden clearly has a better overall game than Mayo.
Chris Kaman will have an interesting matchup with Ömer Aşık at the center position. Kaman should score a lot from the outside, but Aşık will likely dominate the boards.
Jeremy Lin is the x-factor but a good bet to outplay Collison and/or Fisher at point guard.
The Mavs have a better bench, but I don't think that will be enough on the road.
Prediction: Dallas loses at Houston and the Mavs' record drops to 9-11.
Dallas looks to extend their home-winning streak against Sacramento to a staggering 17 straight games. In January, the Mavs set a franchise record by holding the Kings to 60 points; however, in the second Mavs' home win against the Kings last season, Sacramento wound up with 100 points after forcing overtime.
Fast forward to the 2012-13 version of the Mavs, and we find that the Dallas defense has regressed even further. So you can expect the Dec. 10 matchup to be another high-scoring affair.
Kings guard Tyreke Evans has heated up after a slow start and forms a potent scoring duo with center DeMarcus Cousins.
However, Sacramento also ranks in the bottom half of the NBA in points allowed. With or without Dirk, the Mavs should light up the scoreboard at the AAC. In fact, Dirk only had to score 14 ppg as the Mavs averaged 102 ppg in their three-game sweep of the Kings last season.
Prediction: Dallas beats Sacramento handily and the Mavs' record improves to 10-11.
Dallas gets their first close-up look at Jason Terry in a Celtics uniform when they visit Boston. "The Jet" gets off the runway faster these days because he's usually in the starting lineup and has shot well early in the season.
However, Terry is actually getting less minutes than he was as the Mavs' sixth man last season; as a result, his scoring is also down a little. Incidentally, The Jet reached the 15,000 point milestone at Boston while playing for the Mavs Feb. 4, 2011.
This game should literally be up for grabs as it pits two of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. Kevin Garnett is still a good player but has been forced to play most of his minutes at center this season. Another Hall-of-Fame power forward named Dirk might be back by this game, or he might not.
Dirk has had two of his most memorable games against the Celtics. On Feb. 21, 2002, Dirk's 33 points and 23 rebounds at Boston Garden gave him his first-ever 20-20 game. A decade later in Dallas, Dirk moved into 20th place on the all-time scoring list against Boston. In a very ironic twist, Dirk surpassed Celtics legend Robert "The Chief" Parish (23,334 career points) Feb. 20, 2012.
Rajon Rondo is the Celtics unquestioned leader these days and easily leads the NBA in assists. Terry will be ready, willing and able to hit a game-winning shot for Boston if necessary. Dirk will only make it a closer loss if he plays.
Prediction: Dallas loses at Boston and the Mavs' record drops to 10-12.
Even at home, Toronto is a terrible team. Therefore, the Mavericks should attain a much-needed road victory and a sweep of the season series.
However, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was out with an injury Nov. 7, and Toronto still only lost by five points in Dallas.
Don't be too alarmed. The Mavericks were also saddled by injuries in that game as Shawn Marion and Elton Brand rode the pine with Dirk.
Regardless of Dirk's status in Toronto, the Mavs should score at-will against the Raptors porous defense. I look for a score similar to the Mavs' 109-104 victory in Dallas. O.J Mayo and Chris Kaman scored 22 points apiece in that win.
Prediction: Dallas wins at Toronto and the Mavs' record climbs to 11-12.
Can Ricky Rubio regain his Pistol Pete form?
Will Ricky Rubio be at full strength? Will Dirk Nowitzki even play one minute?
The answers to these questions could determine the outcome of the second meeting of the season between the Mavs and Timberwolves at Minnesota. Both teams will be traveling after playing the previous night, so no more excuses unless one team has another rash of injuries.
We all know what Dirk can bring to the table. Rubio was showing Pistol Pete Maravich potential before going down with a much more serious knee injury last March.
Kevin Love and J.J. Barea have already made strong returns from injury since missing Minnesota's 90-82 upset win at Dallas Nov. 12.
Revenge will a primary incentive for the Mavs. More importantly, Dallas needs to get back to .500 before dealing with a murderous schedule later in December.
I don't think it's going to happen, unfortunately.
Prediction: Dallas loses at Minnesota and the Mavs' record falls to 11-13.
Mayo is usually automatic from the line
Dallas lost a 102-100 heartbreaker at Philadelphia November 27. O.J. Mayo missed the front-end of two free throws in the final seconds. After Mayo purposefully missed the second free throw, Jae Crowder retrieved the ball but missed a long heave at the buzzer.
Look for Dallas to take care of business early in the rematch. Philadelphia's new center Andrew Bynum doomed himself with a bowling injury of all things. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Dirk will be back and play well in this game. Mavs' followers have to believe this, because if Dirk's not ready by mid-December, the Mavericks' entire season is doomed. Let's get real here.
Prediction: Dallas beats Philadelphia and the Mavs' record improves to 12-13.
LeBron is on another mission
The Miami Heat look like a lock to repeat as NBA champions at the time of this writing. Barring a LeBron James injury, Miami should be favored in every game they play including their one game at Dallas this season. The addition of Ray Allen's three-point shooting makes this Miami team one of the best in NBA history.
Lincoln High School product Chris Bosh is no longer a "fake tough guy" as Kevin Durant accurately described him two years ago. Bosh has not only accepted his starting center assignment, he is flourishing at it.
Dwyane Wade may not be quite as great as he was, but the Heat look at this as a counter-intuitive positive. There is no chance of D-Wade berating and undressing LeBron in front of the whole world like he did early in the 2011 Finals against Dallas. We all know what transpired after that.
Realistically, we can all chalk this up as yet another Dallas loss after a win. Hopefully, Dirk and O.J. will start developing enough pick-and-roll chemistry to make this game competitive and something to build on. Then again, a blowout loss might allow Carlisle to rest up Dirk for a key game at Memphis the following night.
Prediction: Miami blows out Dallas and Mavs' record drops to 12-14.
Z-Bo strikes another blow
The Mavericks need to get back on track at Memphis one night after tangling with Miami.
Dirk should outscore Zach Randolph, but Z-Bo won't have any trouble in the rebounding department. I would chalk him up for about 20 boards in this game.
Marc Gasol is now the best player in his talented family and his all-around game will give Chris Kaman problems in an excellent center matchup.
That leaves Mayo needing to out-gun his former teammate Rudy Gay from the outside. This is a distinct possibility as Marion's defense might be able to keep Gay from getting too many open looks.
This is a winnable game for the Mavs, and they will consider it a must-win situation. I'm optimistic that Dallas will keep it tight, but not so much about the end result.
Prediction: Dallas loses a squeaker at Memphis and Mavs' record falls to 12-15.
Duncan adding to his legendary credentials
Chances are the Mavs will be in the midst of a season-long losing streak when they head to San Antonio for their final game before Christmas.
Hopefully, Santa will come early and Gregg Popovich will decide to give his Hall-of-Fame trio an extended vacation. Tim Duncan can go to the Virgin Islands, Tony Parker to France and Manu Ginobili to Argentina.
This is not impossible when you can consider what Pop did at Miami. Just consider it almost impossible.
Dallas will be playing their third brutal game in four nights, but I think the Mavs will be clicking on all cylinders by the time this game rolls around. Expect a hotly contested holiday time classic between two bitter rivals.
The Mavs will get a full dose of a rejuvenated Duncan. The 36-year-old legend is playing almost as well as ever early this season, and even owns an atypically good free-throw percentage.
The Spurs have won three straight against the Mavs in San Antonio and must be installed as the odds-on favorite to extend that streak to four.
Prediction: Dallas loses a close game at San Antonio and Mavs' record plummets to 12-16.
OKC will be vulnerable against Mavs
The Mavericks will be stewing over their Christmas break with a three-game losing streak. However, I don't expect it be much of a vacation with a date at Oklahoma City coming up on Dec. 27.
Rick Carlisle has no problems acting the part of Scrooge, and he will re-invent the Mavs during this alleged vacation time.
I expect Oklahoma City to go back to the Finals this season, but they will be hungover after a Christmas night Finals rematch at Miami. Win or lose against the Heat, expect the Thunder to hit the egg nog hard after their biggest game of the regular season.
Dirk will be unstoppable against the Thunder, working pick and rolls with O.J. Mayo. It won't be 2011 unstoppable, but good enough to pull off a big upset.
Kevin Durant's MVP bid will get detoured, if only for a couple of days. Shawn Marion will be revved up for any defensive assignment thrown his way, from Durant to Russell Westbrook.
Have you sensed my pessimism is over? Mark Dec. 27 down on your calendar. Carlisle has had it circled since the Thunder swept the Mavs in the playoffs last season.
Prediction: Dallas wins at Oklahoma City and Mavs' record improves to 13-16.
Kenneth Faried is utterly ferocious
The Mavs will be on the back end of back-to-back games when they host Denver. However, it's a hop, skip and a jump from OKC to Big D.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets will have played on Christmas night at the LA Clippers and the following night in Denver against the Lakers. They do get a day off before the Mavericks game, but neither team has a scheduling edge when you look at the big picture.
Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Brandan Wright all put up big numbers against Denver last season as the Mavs won the last three games of the season matchup. This reversed a long-term trend as Denver had previously won 10-of-13 games against Dallas.
Shooting guard Andre Iguodala has been impressive since coming over from Philadelphia. Forward Kenneth Faried has been an absolute terror on the boards and the Mavs better be ready to mix it up. I have to think by this point of the season, Carlisle will have found some answers for the Mavs' rebounding and defensive woes.
Dallas will be shooting for their first winning streak of a treacherous month, and I think they'll get it.
Prediction: Dallas defeats Denver and Mavs' record climbs to 14-16.
Dirk is Back
We know the Mavs will be looking for their third-straight home win against the Spurs Dec. 30.
As I just forecasted, I believe Dallas will also be searching for a three-game winning streak overall to end the 2012 portion of this season.
Tim Duncan's offense will again be tough to stop, but the Mavs can devise a way to neutralize his defensive resurgence. Timmy has been blocking shots at a stunningly high rate this season, but we all know you can't block Dirk's jumper.
The American Airlines Center will be rocking with the New Year on the horizon. You can forget a losing record when you conquer your most hated rival. And let's face it, the Mavs and Spurs hate each other. Most people are outwardly friendly in Texas, but true Mavs fans will tell you it's another good season when Dallas has still won an NBA championship more recently than the Spurs have.
Those are the intangibles as "Jimmy The Greek" used to illustrate at the bottom of his chalkboard.
They are the main reason, along with Dirk's comeback, that the Mavs win their third straight home game against the Spurs.
A three-game win streak to end December and an 8-7 record for the month would just be a nice bonus. Actually, a huge bonus as it would keep the Mavs' playoff aspirations very realistic.
Prediction: Dallas defeats San Antonio and the Mavs' record improves to 15-16.