PHOENIX Although the Dallas Mavericks have already bizarrely lost four games this season when they led by 17 or more points, they’re playing better at the midway point of this season than they were last year.
At the midway point last season the Mavericks were struggling with a paltry 17-24 record. Dallas made up some ground and finished 41-41 but missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-’00 season.
If the 2013-14 season ended today, the Mavericks would be seeded eighth in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Mavericks are 23-17 going into Friday’s game at Phoenix. Here are five things to look for as the Mavericks enter the second half of the season:
1Return of Devin Harris
The Mavericks have been patiently awaiting the arrival of Harris, who has missed the entire season after undergoing left foot surgery in August. With Harris, the Mavericks won’t have to rely on rookies Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel to back up Jose Calderon at point guard. He is also a better defender than all three of those players.
2Middle rotation settled
At some point, the Mavericks will have to settle on a two-man rotation at center. Right now, they’re splitting the center minutes between Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair and Brandan Wright. It’s difficult for players to get into a flow when they’re in and out of the lineup.
3Speed game becomes fluid
When Devin Harris, whose return is near, is coupled with Monta Ellis, the Mavericks will have one of the fastest backcourts in the NBA. That speed should enable the Mavericks to get more than their share of easy baskets in the difficult Western Conference.
4Playing with a full roster
The Mavericks have yet to have an active full roster. That will change when Harris returns next week, giving coach Rick Carlisle more workable combinations to put on the floor. And with Carlisle among the top three or four coaches in the league in terms of adjustments and working his roster, look for the Mavericks to finish fifth in the West.
5Mavericks in the playoffs
By hook or by crook, the Mavericks will find a way to re-introduce themselves to the playoffs after a one-year absence. This team is too talented and too deep at every position — and too well-coached — not to be part of the NBA’s postseason.
The Mavericks have had a bumpy, but improved first half of the season, thanks in part to the arrival of Ellis and the spirited play of veteran Dirk Nowitzki. Here’s a look at some notables from the Mavericks and from around the league:
NBA’s Biggest Surprise Team