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Dallas Mavericks Face Key Stretch With Houston, Utah and Denver

Mavericks Trail Rockets by a Half-Game in Southwest Division Standings

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | With Houston and San Antonio located some four hours to the south, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never had to look up to see the Houston Rockets or San Antonio Spurs -- unless it pertains to the Western Conference Southwest division standings.

Lately, that's not been the case, and it's not the painful pose Cuban and the Mavericks want to continue to hold.

After all, looking up that Rockets is like looking up to a little brother.

Eleven games into the season, the Mavs (7-4) are in the middle of the pack just below, you guessed it, the Spurs and the Rockets. The Mavs' wins haven't been over the crème-de-le-crème of the league, but a win is a win and they are at least keeping pace -- for now.

The Mavs, winners of two straight games and six of their last 10, haven't gained much ground. A win over the Rockets on Wednesday at American Airlines Center would move the Mavs into second place with a miniscule half-game lead over Houston, but they still would be staring up at the Spurs. At least there wouldn't be any debris to look, through.

After all, the Mavs are expected to be inhaling the exhaust of at the Spurs, but taking on the windshield wiper fluid of the Rockets is unacceptable.

"It's a lofty challenge no matter how you cut it," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told Mavs.com concerning Wednesday's game. "They've got a lot of hot players on that team. I mean, [Jeremy] Lin is the second-leading scorer, Harden is the leading scorer and Howard is the third-leading scorer. And so they've got a lot of artillery, and it's challenging 'cause you have to get back in transition and then you've got to keep them in front of you, because they're a great driving team."

The Rockets (8-5) handed the Mavericks their second-largest loss of the season, 113-105, in the season opener Nov. 1 at Toyota Center.

If the Mavs plan to put some asphalt between themselves and their neighbors to the south, now is the time. Following the anticipated donnybrook with the Rockets, the Mavs host the Utah Jazz and have back-to-backs with the Denver Nuggets in Colorado and Dallas. The Jazz and Nuggets -- two of the five teams in the Western Conference with losing records -- combined have two fewer wins than the Mavericks.

Pathetic -- the Nuggets (4-6) and Jazz (1-11), that is, but pathetic is what the Mavs need.

The Rockets, on the other hand, host the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-5), visit the Memphis Grizzlies (6-5) and welcome the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta (6-5) is just one of four teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record.

At least the Grizzlies and Hawks have a pulse, unlike the two teams that reside on either side of the Rockies.

By the time the Mavericks meet the Spurs for the first time this year on Dec. 26, three-fourths of Dallas' four-game season series with the Rockets will be complete, and that's a positive for the Mavericks.

The next six days will be key for the Mavericks.

Will Cuban and the Mavericks be looking at least eye to eye with the Rockets, or will they be pulling rocks from their teeth?

Jay Hinton lives in Fort Worth and had followed the Mavericks since moving to the area three years ago. He has been a journalist for 17 years and his work has been published in the Deseret News, The Salt Lake Tribune and The Times-Picayune.

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