While the month of January isn’t over, the Mavericks’ most demanding stretch of the season in terms of travel and volume of games has finally drawn to a close. Dallas has played a league-high 17 games since Dec. 30, when the Mavs beat the Golden State Warriors at home in exciting fashion. Coming full circle, Dallas returned home yesterday from a road contest against those same Warriors, capping off a busy month-long stretch which saw the club play 17 games in 29 days and travel more than 10,000 miles.
That marathon was bookended by contests against the defending-champion Warriors, and also included games against the Spurs, Thunder (twice), Cavaliers, Bulls, Celtics, and Rockets. Dallas just completed one of the toughest 10-game stretches you could imagine, facing a heavyweight lineup of foes that nearly all be competing for the Larry O’Brien Trophy come April.
Counting tonight’s tilt against Brooklyn, 14 of the Mavs’ next 18 games come within the friendly confines of American Airlines Center, where Dallas has gone 13-8 this season. Only the Milwaukee Bucks have played fewer home games (20) this season than the Mavericks (21), and those same Bucks are the only team to have played more road games (28) than Dallas (27). Needless to say, it will be nice to see the schedule even itself out as January turns to February, and February to March.
That doesn’t mean the upcoming stretch of schedule is any less forgiving, however. The Mavs play the Nets tonight, who have won four consecutive games in American Airlines Center, and then Tyson Chandler and Phoenix come to town Sunday. Following that contest, the Mavs have dates with the Hawks, Heat, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Jazz, each of whom is firmly in the playoff picture in their respective conference. However, once the Mavs reach the Feb. 12 respite, Dallas will have only three back-to-backs remaining on the schedule this season. That fact — combined with a large volume of home games — means the roster should be relatively well-rested as the pressure heats up in what’s sure to be another difficult and tight race toward the postseason.
Take a quick glance at the Mavs’ home/road splits this season and you’ll notice that there aren’t many significant differences in player performance whether the club is at home or on the road. Perhaps the player with the biggest statistical swing based on location is point guard Deron Williams, who averages 17.4 points per game at home versus 11.5 on the road. Many of Williams’ best games in a Mavericks uniform have come at American Airlines Center, so that certainly goes a long way in explaining it. However, he shoots the 3-ball just as well on the road (34.5 percent) as he does at home (34.9 percent). He also averages more assists away from home (5.7) than at the AAC (5.1).
J.J. Barea, meanwhile, has almost an inverted case. He averages more points and shoots it more efficiently overall (10.6 and 44.9 percent, respectively) away from home than he does in Dallas (8.4 points on 38.6 percent shooting). Barea’s late-December tear away from home has something to do with it. It should be noted, though, that he shoots a blistering 40.6 percent on 3s at home, while he boasts only a 29.3 percent completion rate on the road.
Player to player, however, one stat does stand out when it comes to home vs. road splits: steals. Dallas grabs 8.2 of them at American Airlines Center but only 5.7 per game as a visitor. That suggests the Mavericks are perhaps a bit more active on the defensive end at home, though that’s to be expected — home teams can feed off the crowd and set the tone. More steals is almost always a good thing, as well: Dallas is 10-7 when it records at least eight swipes and 7-1 when the defense steals it 10 times or more.
One other area in which the Mavericks stand out at home is closing games on the offensive end. Williams and Dirk Nowitzki sharing the closer duties this season has been awfully fun to watch, and other players — including Chandler Parsons, Wesley Matthews, and Raymond Felton — have contributed as well. Dallas scores 127.7 points per 100 possessions in the clutch at American Airlines Center, with “clutch” being defined as the final five minutes of a game and the score within five points either way. That’s the third-highest mark in all of basketball, behind only Cleveland and San Antonio. The Mavs have played 80 clutch minutes at home this season — the second-most in the NBA — and that’s a large enough sample size to know that Dallas steps up its game when it matters most.
On the road, on the other hand, Dallas scores 116.9 points per 100 in the clutch. While it’s the league’s sixth-best closing offense away from home, the numbers aren’t as mind-boggling. And given the quality of opponents the Mavs are facing during this home-heavy stretch, strong clutch performances will likely be required on almost a nightly basis. The league is maybe deeper and more competitive than ever, and it seems like more and more games are becoming dogfights down the stretch. It’s important to have guys in your corner who can hit big shots and make big plays, and the Mavericks clearly have a roster full of them.
By comparison to the above map which illustrates the Mavs’ hectic January travel schedule, here’s all of the traveling the Mavericks will be doing between Jan. 29-March 12, a 44-day stretch that will see the team travel less than 6,000 miles — or roughly half the distance in almost double the days.
To be fair, the Mavs won’t play a game between Feb. 10-18 due to the All-Star break, but the fact remains that Dallas will play on four road games between now and March 12. The next time the Mavericks play more than two consecutive games away from home comes on March 23, when Dallas embarks on a four-game swing on the West Coast.
Again, none of this is to say the Mavericks have an easy schedule between now and then. It’s just not as demanding in terms of travel and volume of games. After the first week of February, Dallas will go nearly a month without having to play a single back-to-back. The All-Star break will give the Mavs plenty of time to rest up and recharge, and the home-heavy schedule through the next two months offers the players a chance to sleep in their own beds and play in front of their own fans. It’s a perfect time for the Mavs to look to make their move up the Western Conference playoff table, and it starts now.