With the release of the NBA schedule comes excitement, anticipation, and a whole lot of calendar-checking. You’ve got to know which games you’re going to be able to catch live, after all.
But joining those emotions is a ton of number-crunching. How many back-to-backs are there? What’s the longest road trip? Where might there be a nice homestand? Let us do all that stuff, though. We’re less than 60 days away from players reporting for training camp. It’s time to start getting excited.
Below are some of the most important storylines to follow as it relates to the schedule, and we start with a familiar face.
Dirk Nowitzki needs just 478 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
We’ll take a more detailed look at Nowitzki’s climb up the all-time scoring list later this summer, but just know that his passing O’Neal on the list is imminent. The German scored 1,333 points last season and has never scored fewer during an 82-game season. Seeing him pass an NBA legend in-person is always a treat, so hopefully that moment falls the night of a home game.
Some games during the regular season just mean a bit more. Whether it’s because of past playoff history, competitive games the season before, superstar appeal, or perhaps some players just not liking one another, there are always a handful of the 41 home games that carry some extra weight.
The first such game is Nov. 11, the fourth home game of the season, when the Los Angeles Clippers come to town. After the events of this summer and the Clippers’ loaded roster featuring new faces Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson, that contest is sure to be one of the more anticipated games on the schedule. It will be the clubs’ second meeting of the season, as the Mavs will have already played the Clippers at the Staples Center on Oct. 29. LA comes to town again on March 7.
The red carpet will stay out after the Clippers’ visit, as the Los Angeles Lakers will come to town Friday, Nov. 13. Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has said this could be his last season, and the Lakers don’t make another visit to the AAC after this one. If Bryant’s words are true, this could be his last visit to Dallas as a pro player.
Other can’t-miss games include the Houston Rockets’ first visit to town on Dec. 4 (and their follow-up visit on April 6); the Chicago Bulls’ lone visit to town on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas; and the San Antonio Spurs’ visits on Feb. 5 and April 13, the final night of the regular season.
LeBron James and the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers make their lone trip to Dallas on Jan. 12, and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, led by reigning MVP Stephen Curry, will play at the American Airlines Center on Dec. 30 and March 18.
Between Feb. 21 and March 12, the Mavs will play nine out of 10 games within the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center. In the midst of that stretch come several interesting matchups, including the second Clippers game and a visit from Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Also rolling through town during that time will be a long list of the top picks in this year’s NBA Draft. Jahlil Okafor (Philadelphia), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota), Mario Hezonja (Orlando), Willie Cauley-Stein (Sacramento), Dallas’ own Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver), Stanley Johnson (Detroit), and former Texas Longhorn Myles Turner (Indiana) will all be coming to town during that run. Joining Turner will be former Mavs 2-guard Monta Ellis, now with the Pacers.
While it might pay to have a long homestand, giving your team a chance to rest and play against weary road opponents, it also means the rest of the schedule will be slanted toward the road. For example, 12 of the Mavs’ first 19 games of the season come on the road, including the first three of the 2015-16 campaign. Then, 10 of their final 16 games are away from home, including two separate trips to the West Coast.
Dallas, however, has always been a good road team. Last season, the Mavs won more road games than three of their playoff foes, including division rivals San Antonio and New Orleans. While the roster is actually getting younger, the Mavs’ veteran savvy will come in handy during tough stretches of road-heavy schedule. Players like Nowitzki, Deron Williams, and Wes Matthews have been there and done that during their years in the league, and many of Chandler Parsons’ best games last season came on the road, including a sparkling performance in a late-season win in Oklahoma City. If the Mavs can take care of business at home and play as well as they’re accustomed to on the road, it’ll be hard to envision a scenario in which they aren’t in the top eight come April.
Dallas plays 16 back-to-backs this season, which seems like an awfully high number, but just two of them come after a back-to-back set on Feb. 5-6. That means the Mavs will have a relatively light workload between the All-Star break and the end of the regular season while many other teams will presumably be playing a ton of games. That doesn’t mean the schedule will be easy (it probably won’t), and it doesn’t mean there won’t be many games (there will be), but back-to-backs present challenging decisions for teams. Should slightly injured players sit out to recover? Should Nowitzki take a night off to rest his legs? The fewer tough choices Rick Carlisle needs to make down the stretch, the better, especially as the pressure mounts toward the end of the season.
The Mavs play four games in five nights just one time this season. If you think playing one back-to-back is tough, try doing it twice in a row. That run comes Nov. 10-14 with games against the Pelicans, Clippers, Lakers, and Rockets. Again, it’s good to get the tough stuff out of the way early in the season and then lighten the load toward the end of the season as the wear and tear of 82 games begins to take effect. If Dallas can navigate these waters early on, the payoff could be great months later.
The regular season won’t start until preseason is over, of course. And this October, Dallas will have just three home games before the games count in the standings. The Mavs will open the preseason at home against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 6, then they’ll play the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 16 and Tyson Chandler and the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 21. That will be the last chance to see the Mavs until Nov. 3, as their first three games of the regular season come away from home.
Preseason is a great opportunity to see the young reserves get lots of run. Justin Anderson figures to see plenty of playing time, as does Summer League standout Maurice Ndour and rising D-Leaguers Jarrid Famous and Jamil Wilson. Those roster battles absolutely matter, by the way: Charlie Villanueva was one of those players last season, but his showing during the exhibition season earned him a roster spot. His shooting helped Dallas win many games in 2014-15, so all 20 players will have something to fight for come preseason.