The Dallas Mavericks have a losing road record. They have injuries and are off back-to-back bad losses against the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
In short, this is the best time to take the Mavericks.
On the future book you can still find odds as high as 8-1 and the Mavericks have as good an opportunity as any of the other elite teams to win the championship.
Make no mistake. The Mavericks remain an elite team despite their 12-14 away mark and current injuries to Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier and now Josh Howard is banged up after Monday's game against the Wizards. Let’s not forget Dallas’ 67-15 regular season record last year, best in the NBA.
Dirk Nowitzki is the reigning MVP and is continuing to blossom into a great all-around player. Howard is one of the most underrated players in the league, averaging 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Harris is an emerging point guard. He’s missed the past eight games because of a bruised left ankle, but isn’t going to be out forever. Dampier, DeSagana Diop and Brandon Bass provide front-court depth.
They are capable of handling the big men in the Western Conference with their defensive skills, rebounding abilities and 18 fouls to give. Dallas has a veteran bench with Stackhouse, Eddie Jones, Trenton Hassell, Devean George and Juwan Howard.
The Mavericks learned a crucial lesson from their shocking first-round loss to Golden State last season. They now are all about winning the playoffs, aiming to peak at the right time rather than going for the best record.
Thanks to Avery Johnson, the Mavericks remain committed to improving their defense. They’ve allowed an average of 90.5 points during their past nine games. That would rank them third in the NBA if computed for the entire season.
Keep in mind, Dallas still might add another key piece before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. Jason Kidd perhaps?
Then there is the rest of the West.
San Antonio is a mediocre 10-8 during its last 18 games. The Spurs have an aging bench. Phoenix's deal for Shaq remains a question mark.
Boston’s bench has been better than expected, but Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have proven brittle and Kevin Garnett already has gotten hurt. Detroit is too old.
The Pistons’ window of opportunity has closed. New Orleans doesn’t have the pedigree.
The Hornets are headed down after nearly reaching top level status.
Utah is solid, but lacks the defense to go all the way.
The Los Angeles Lakers made a strong statement by heisting Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. Gasol, though, can be soft.
So there are the Mavs, swimming under the radar screen. They are still thought of as dangerous, but it’s the Suns, Lakers and Celtics drawing the publicity.
Even Mark Cuban has been fairly quiet. Forget not having home-court advantage. Elite teams overcome it during the playoffs.
The key is to peak come post-season, not in February. The Mavericks are going to be involved. The time to back them at a favorable price range is now before their upcoming momentum begins.
Stephen Nover is a professional handicapper and a Covers Expert. He is on a moneymaking tear with the NBA and you can get his guaranteed picks here.