The NBA handed the Dallas Mavericks a schedule that divides the season into two distinct halves: The home portion followed by the away portion.
The Mavs will play 19 of their first 31 games at American Airlines Center, but will be put to the test starting in February with 21 of their final 35 games coming on the road. Now, just because the early season keeps the Mavs in their cozy confines doesn't mean they'll be able to kick back and count the wins. The October-November slate is an absolute bear with the silver lining being that 10 of those first 17 games are at home. The Mavs will probably start the season without exciting guard Roddy Beaubois (broken foot), a disappointing scenario as they seek an 11th consecutive season of 50 wins and a third under coach Rick Carlisle.
Can they do it?
Here's my month-by-month look at the schedule:
October/November (17 games: 10 home, 7 away)
It's almost routine to chalk up two wins to start the season when the Charlotte Bobcats (Oct. 27) and Memphis Grizzlies (Oct. 29) come to the AAC first, but the Bobcats are coming off the franchise's first playoff appearance and the Grizzlies are improving and have had the Mavs' number of late. November shapes up with a home-and-home set against the Denver Nuggets (Nov. 3 and 6), home dates against the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics (Nov. 8) and then check out this four-game Thanksgiving sandwich to close out the month: at the Oklahoma City Thunder (Nov. 24), at the San Antonio Spurs (Nov. 26), followed by two big home games, the first being the showcase game against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat (Nov. 27), and then the return of Yao Ming and the hungry Houston Rockets.
December (14 games: 9 home, 5 away)
Yes, the Mavs again get a nice, long stay at home, including a season-long six-game homestand from Dec. 7-17, and it would be nice to clean up on their home floor (remember how poorly the Mavs played at times at home last season), but the schedule remains awfully challenging. Dallas gets two looks at Al Jefferson in a Utah Jazz uniform, first in Salt Lake City (Dec. 3) where the Mavs struggle mightily, and then at the ACC (Dec. 11). The Mavs had a chance to pounce on Jefferson, but backed out and the Jazz made the deal with Minnesota to acquire the low-post scorer. The improved Milwaukee Bucks (Dec. 13), plus the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns wrap up the six-game homestand and set up another killer end-of-the-month slate. It starts with a rugged, back-to-back pre-Christmas Florida trip at Miami (Dec. 20) and Orlando (Dec. 21). After a five-day Christmas break, things resume at home against the Toronto Raptors (Dec. 28) and then the Spurs.
January (16 games: 8 home, 8 away)
Maybe it's because teams like Memphis, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee and the Chicago Bulls are no longer pushovers, but there just isn't a stretch in the schedule where you feel good about penciling in a string of wins. The month is loaded with traps, including all four of those teams just mentioned. The month also brings the first of three games against the Los Angeles Lakers (Jan. 19) at home followed the next by a trip to Chicago, a difficult swing. A home game against Orlando (Jan. 8) and a road test at San Antonio (Jan. 14) are also on the docket, which includes three sets of back-to-backs, two of which are fully on the road. As the days grow shorter and the road trips get colder (at Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and New Jersey), the Mavs will need to be ramping things up as the mid-point of the season comes and goes.
February (12 games: 3 home, 9 away)
This will be an important month for the Mavs with such a road-heavy schedule, but the real work might be going on in the club's front office. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has made it no secret that the Mavs will be looking to strike big at the February trade line. There will be several players under expiring contracts who will be wondering if they're staying or going, including Caron Butler, who was acquired at last season's deadline, and newly acquired center Tyson Chandler. On the floor, only half of the 12 games are against playoff teams. The notable exception is a home game against the new-look and considerably downgraded Cleveland Cavaliers (Feb. 7). Of course, a road trip to Houston (Feb. 12) is a fair replacement -- assuming full health -- as a playoff-caliber opponent that wasn't a year ago. A three-game road trip starts the month at Madison Square Garden against Amare Stoudemire and the re-made New York Knicks, then onto Boston and Charlotte. Despite the rough road schedule, this has to be a month where the Mavs make up ground heading into a brutal month of March.
March (16 games, 7 home, 9 away)
Who knows if the Mavs will be coming together as the same roster that started the season or trying to mesh new parts for a third time in four seasons after a big deadline deal. Either way, all that needs to be said about this first month of spring is that Dallas will be faced with five sets of back-to-backs with the final three all coming on the road. The first part of the month would seem a good time to pick up wins with the first six games coming against non-playoff teams (but again, Memphis on March 6 and at the New Orleans Hornets on March 9 aren't gimmes). The Lakers roll back through town on March 12 to start an eight-game stretch that includes back-to-backs at Portland and the Golden State Warriors (March 15-16), at Utah and Phoenix (March 26-27) and at the Los Angeles Clippers with Blake Griffin and the Lakers (March 30-31).
April (7 games: 4 home, 3 away)
Dallas can finish strong with four of their final five games at home. They start the month with one final back-to-back at Golden State and Portland (April 2-3) and play a final road game at Houston (April 11). The final home stretch includes Denver, the Clippers, Phoenix and New Orleans to wraup up the regular season on April 13.
Yes, the Mavs will make it 11 consecutive seasons with 50 wins -- but with little margin for error.
My final prediction: 52-30.