The Dallas Mavericks barely qualified for the NBA playoffs last season before pushing the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the opening round. They will look to take another step forward during the 2014-15 campaign.
Dallas' offseason moves went a long way in ensuring the team would have a more reliable starting group outside of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. A trade with the New York Knicks for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton and the signing of Chandler Parsons highlighted the moves.
The question now is whether all of the team's acquisitions are enough to move it into championship contention. The Western Conference remains the tougher collection of teams overall, which creates a difficult road to the NBA Finals.
Now the Mavericks know the regular-season slate they will face after the schedule release on Mavs.com. Let's check out some of the top games on tap along with the team's title odds and an early prediction for the new season.
|Key Games on Mavs' 2014-15 Schedule|
|at San Antonio Spurs||Thursday, October 28||8 p.m.|
|at Houston Rockets||Saturday, November 22||8 p.m.|
|vs. Los Angeles Clippers||Monday, February 9||8:30 p.m.|
|vs. Oklahoma City Thunder||Sunday, December 28||7:30 p.m.|
|vs. Cleveland Cavaliers||Tuesday, March 10||8:30 p.m.|
The Mavericks' playoff run came to an end in the AT&T Center in May. Going back for the first time during the new season will be a great test—not only to exorcise the demons, but also in terms of a measuring stick for how much progress has been made and what's still left to do.
Almost equally interesting will be Chandler Parsons' return to Houston. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports passed along comments from the forward after the in-state switch and he made it clear the Rockets didn't treat him with much respect:
Honestly, I was offended by the whole process. They publicly said that they were going out looking for a third star when I thought they had one right in front of them. I guess that's just how they viewed me as a player. I don't think I've scratched the surface of where I can be as a player and I think I'm ready for that role.
The team's other games against top contenders from the West are also worth watching. Again, the Mavericks didn't make as big of a splash as some other teams over the summer, but they definitely got better. Facing the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers will show how much.
Finally, a look at the schedule wouldn't be complete without noting the first time Dallas will see LeBron James back in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform. If the Mavs do find a way to survive the West, the four-time MVP and Co. could very well be the final roadblock to a title.
Odds and Record Prediction
|2014-15 Championship Odds|
|Odds via Odds Shark|
At the current odds, the Mavericks are a solid value selection. They are a more balanced team than the one that pushed the Spurs to seven games in the postseason. A better regular season to avoid such a tough playoff draw could very well make them a sleeper contender.
Nowitzki deserves a lot of credit for helping facilitate those upgrades. He quietly signed a far less lucrative contract extension than he could have demanded to provide the front office with more flexibility to make moves to improve the roster around him.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas joked the veteran superstar should get some votes for an award outside his usual realm if the team's plan works out:
Thanks to those concessions, the Mavs will trot out a starting lineup featuring Felton, Ellis, Parsons, Chandler and, of course, Nowitzki. If they can all stay reasonably healthy over the course of the campaign, it's a good enough base to compete with anybody.
A major question mark is whether the team has enough depth, though. Devin Harris is capable of providing a spark off the bench, but they will also need effective minutes from Jameer Nelson, Richard Jefferson and Brandan Wright, among others, to contend.
Ultimately, on the surface, the Mavs should be a more potent squad after a successful offseason. The Western Conference remains extremely deep, however, which could mean their improvement only leads to a minor difference in the standings.
The main goal for Dallas should be trying to fight its way into the top four. If it can secure home-court advantage in the opening round, the postseason outlook obviously becomes brighter. At the very least, it wants to avoid the Spurs or Thunder right away.
Don't be surprised if the Mavericks get off to a sluggish start as all of the new pieces settle into their roles. Once they build up that chemistry and Rick Carlisle finds a rotation he's comfortable with, Dallas should emerge as a dangerous squad in the West.
Early Record Projection: 53-29