The Come Up: The amazing race

Monday means The Come Up, and today we're looking big picture -- as in from here to April 14. The obvious ideal scenario is to work towards playing your best possible basketball at the end of the season and head into the playoffs with room still left to crescendo. But in the Western Conference, the real trick is to be a 2 or 3 seed and stay on the opposite side of the bracket from the Lakeshow until the Conference Finals. The Mavs have a chance to make it happen, and it a go a 'lil summin' like this:

Opportunity to come together

First things first, the Mavs need some practice time with their new dudes, and much has been made about the fact that four games in five nights to start the stretch run made that impossible. But the next month will give them a chance to settle in a little bit. The Mavericks only have two back-to-backs over the next four weeks, and there will be a stretch in mid-March in which they'll play four consecutive home games over an 11-day period that will afford them plenty of practice opportunities. Over their next 15 games, eight opponents are .500 or better but 10 of those 15 games are at the AAC. The team clearly has a new bounce in its step following the trade. The schedule provides the chance for the Mavs to garner that proverbial full head of steam.

An eye on Denver

With 26 games to go for both teams, Dallas is two games behind Denver for the No. 2 seed with the season series tied at 1 and the final home stand coming on March 29. If both teams continue to play at a high level, that game is shaping up to be huge, and Dallas should be the team with the legs. For Denver, that game will be the last night of a week-long road trip in which it'll play five games in seven nights and have played at Orlando the night before. Dallas also plays three more home games than Denver for the remainder of the season.

However, all this Denver talk shouldn't discount Utah or OKC. The Thunder are on the verge of a 10-game win streak and have been remarkable on the road for a young team with a 17-11 record. But the key word is young. For them to claim a top four spot after having been out of the playoff conversation since the franchise's Seattle days would be shocking. And the Jazz have been killing it as of late, but they just gave away a starter at the trade deadline (Ronnie Brewer) and a team that has been notoriously suspect on the road the last few seasons (14-12 this year) plays 15 of their remaining 27 on the road.

Certainly, disregarding Utah is a huge mistake, and the Jazz have already won the season series with the Mavs. But in my estimation, Denver is the team to catch in this race, and Dallas is in a great position to start that ascent.