Cuban: Healthy Mavs can 'surprise'

DALLAS – On paper, the Dallas Mavericks look like a team that will be scrapping for one of the West’s last couple of playoff spots.

“I don’t make predictions. You know that,” owner Mark Cuban said. “But if we stay healthy, I think we’ll surprise some people.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors look like locks to finish above the Mavs in the standings. After winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Houston Rockets are sound bets to move up in the West playoff mix.

Cuban has studied the rosters. He understands why the Mavs are underdogs. But he’s been in the NBA long enough to know that preseason projections often look silly once spring rolls around.

“I don’t think you can take anything for granted in the West,” Cuban said. “I’m certainly not saying we’re going to be the best team in the West, but we’re going to play the games and see what happens.”

Cuban can point to the fact that the Mavs went 18-12 after last season’s All-Star break, when Dirk Nowitzki finally looked fully recovered from his preseason arthroscopic knee surgery and returned to something resembling his Hall of Fame form. That's a 49-win pace if projected over 82 games, which would have been good enough for the West's sixth seed last season.

Cuban can also confidently believe that, on the whole, the nine newcomers on the roster are upgrades over the players who departed.

“Hopefully, a lot better,” Cuban said with a laugh, well aware that he was also optimistic before the Mavs’ 12-year playoff streak ended with a .500 campaign last season. “Obviously, I’m positive every year, but when you talk to our guys who have been here, the first thing they’ll say is, ‘We’ve got some talent, we’ve got some depth.’ I think we have more talent and depth than last year, but we’ll play the games.

“I still really think it comes down to health. If Dirk stays healthy, Vince [Carter] stays healthy, Shawn [Marion] stays healthy, then I think we’ll be good.”