Gil LeBreton

Mavericks’ change of travel plans should help them

Mavericks center Tyson Chandler, left, defends against  Rockets center Dwight Howard.
Mavericks center Tyson Chandler, left, defends against Rockets center Dwight Howard. AP

Clearly, this is one of the reasons why the airlines get away with charging you a three-figure fee for changing your reservation.

Because of the New Orleans Pelicans. Because of the NBA’s dog-eat-dog Western Conference.

Because everyone who follows Mark Cuban’s Dallas team was expecting the Mavericks to open the playoffs this weekend in San Antonio.

Instead, happy belated Mardi Gras, Mavericks. The Pelicans just threw you a month’s supply of doubloons and beads.

In no way should anyone be suggesting that the 56-win Houston Rockets will be a first-round pushover for the seventh-seeded Mavericks. But what nutty team wanted to face the defending champion Spurs in the first round?

The Mavericks have been there and done that. And, to their credit, last year’s memorable series lasted seven games.

Before the Pelicans knocked off the Spurs in the regular-season finale Wednesday night in New Orleans, San Antonio had won 14 of its previous 15 games.

The Spurs had lost only three times since February. They have still only lost one home game since Feb. 1.

The Wednesday night results sent San Antonio into a first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, a matchup that many preseason forecasters expected to be the conference finals.

For the Mavericks, it was like the hi-fi needle skipping and scratching across the Beatles LP. (Google it, if you’re under 40). Instead of Tim Duncan and the River Walk, the Mavericks suddenly have to turn their attention toward Dwight Howard and James Harden’s beard.

Despite the Rockets winning three of four during the regular season, the Mavericks have to be encouraged by the first-round pairing. Howard, for example, remains a difference maker, but his decreased minutes suggest he’s not yet fully recovered from his post-surgical knee.

And with Patrick Beverley (wrist surgery) out, do the Rockets really expect to contest a best-of-seven series with 37-year-old Jason Terry at point guard?

Granted, the Mavericks have their own set of concerns, notably the health of Chandler Parsons (knee) and Devin Harris (toe).

But coach Rick Carlisle patiently and blessedly was able to give both an extended mending period in the final week. Both are expected to be ready for Saturday night’s Game 1.

Even without Parsons, the ex-Rocket, Carlisle’s team finished the season promisingly. Or so it seems. With this Mavericks team, the tea leaves have been misread before.

In Parsons’ absence, quality minutes were logged by Richard Jefferson and Al-Farouq Aminu. Carlisle’s playoff rotation again will be deep.

Tyson Chandler, used judiciously in the final weeks, appears to be as healthy entering the playoffs as Carlisle could have reasonably expected.

If Monta Ellis can show that he is out of his long shooting funk, the series looms as dead even.

Make no mistake, this is Mavericks Inc.’s most bitter rivalry. Snide words were exchanged between owner Cuban and Houston GM Daryl Morey in the wake of the Howard-Parsons free agent signings.

As Morey told Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski back then, if you recall, “Let’s be clear — if the money’s equal between the Rockets and Mavericks, I think players are picking Houston. Every time.”

The two franchises haven’t met in the playoffs in 10 years.

Thank you, Pelicans. This should be fun.

Gil LeBreton


Twitter: @gilebreton

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