Which games offered noticeable indications of where each Southwest Division team stood at the All-Star break? Let’s find out in these days before the beginning of the season’s second half.
DALLAS MAVERICKS: Monday, January 18 vs. Boston — W, 118-113 (OT)
The Mavericks probably won’t get out of the first round of the playoffs… but how many people thought they’d be a near-lock for a playoff spot at the break? When DeAndre Jordan changed his mind, the Mavericks were supposed to be finished.
No one told Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, and the rest of the Mavs. It’s been a positive season, all things considered.
In light of that acknowledgment, the Mavericks have in many ways defined their season with wins against Boston, home and away. The road win came at a very early point in the season, though, so it’s worth emphasizing the more recent win at home on MLK Day. The Mavs were drilled by San Antonio — 112-83 — on the previous Sunday night. The Celtics aren’t world-beaters, but they are a contender for the third seed in the East. Dallas absorbed Boston’s full force and fended off the Celtics in overtime. The Mavericks have earned a ton of (additional) respect around the league for how they’ve responded to L’Affaire DeAndre.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: Saturday, February 6 vs. Portland — L, 96-79
The Rockets have been a massive disappointment this season. While the home loss to Brooklyn in November was a rock-botttom moment solely in terms of the caliber of opponent, the much more recent blowout loss against the Trail Blazers more precisely illustrated how disjointed the Rockets have become this season. It’s true that they didn’t hemorrhage on defense in that loss; it was their offense which didn’t show up. Nevertheless, getting clocked at home by the Blazers speaks to Houston’s utter lack of reliability.
Raise your hand if you had Portland finishing ahead of Houston at season’s end.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Saturday, December 26 at Charlotte — L, 98-92
The Grizzlies are getting old, and everyone in the NBA knows it. A franchise is watching its best players age, without the ability to send as many loud statements as in years past. This reality was underscored by a loss at Charlotte on the feast of Stephen. The Grizzlies were rocked by the Hornets, 123-99, on Dec. 11. This was a revenge game, a chance for a blue-collar team to grit and grind its way to a satisfying piece of revenge. That the Grizz couldn’t split the season series with Charlotte offers an indication of this team’s diminished capacities.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: Tuesday, November 17 vs. Denver — L, 115-98
When bad teams get healthy against you in your own building — winning in a laugher — you know you’re in trouble, and that accumulated injuries have already taken their toll, just three weeks into a very long season.
When the Pelicans fell to 1-10 after getting blitzed by the Nuggets, everyone in the league could see that the Pelicans were not going to be a playoff team this season.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS — Thursday, January 14 vs. Cleveland — W, 99-95
The Spurs did get blasted by the Warriors in Oakland, but they’ll get a chance to host Golden State before too long. They also lost to Cleveland on the road, but they defeated the Cavs a couple weeks earlier in the Alamo City, protecting their unblemished home-court record. Kawhi Leonard was spectacular in that game, just as he’s been for most of this season. The Spurs have been remarkably consistent at not losing to bad teams, but this game showed they could outclass one of the league’s elite clubs. Had this result gone Cleveland’s way, we wouldn’t be talking about how the West Finals are the real NBA Finals this season.