How Concerned Should Lakers Fans Be About Streaking Dallas Mavericks?

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2013

The Los Angeles Lakers haven't exactly set the world on fire after taking over the No. 8 spot from the Utah Jazz. Instead they're treading water as the Dallas Mavericks slowly creep up from behind.

Dallas has arisen as the greatest threat to the Lakers for their eighth spot in the Western Conference. It is now 9-4 in its past 13 games, capped off with a 113-108 win over—you guessed it—those reeling Jazz.

Now, the Mavericks haven't set the world on fire against the league's best teams, losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Brooklyn Nets over their past 14. However, they've beaten the teams they know they can beat.

Dallas' March run hasn't marked a huge difference from February, but it's shown off some different basketball.

In all, the team's 104.5 point-per-game average since the beginning of March is up over its season average, but it's similar to what it posted in February.

Defensively, the Mavericks have given up 102.4 points per game in March. That's in line with their season average, but worse than the 99.1 points per game they gave up in the previous month.

What Dallas has shown is that since the return of Dirk Nowitzki, it's a different basketball team.

After struggling in his first nine games on the floor (in which Dallas went 1-8), Dirk has averaged nearly 18 points and eight rebounds, and the Mavericks are a solid 20-12, a 50-win pace over an entire season.

Dallas has a different kind of pep in its offense with Nowitzki in the lineup, and while it's still not a special team defensively, it did put another smart seven-footer in the rotation, which is never a bad thing.

The Mavericks haven't suddenly turned into a great team, but they have turned into a good enough team, all while the Jazz completely fall over themselves.

Utah has lost 12 of its last 15 games, and while that's allowed the Lakers to take a hold of and keep the eighth playoff seed, it's allowed the Mavericks, and even the Portland Trail Blazers to a lesser extent, to extend their lives later into the season.

The Mavericks seem to have what it takes to keep winning the right games over the final three weeks of the season. The real mystery is Los Angeles.

While the Lakers have won 19 of their last 28 games, they constantly remind us that they are just an average basketball team at times, and at other times worse.

The Lakers' previous two losses put them in an immediate light of weakness, falling to the Phoenix Suns on the road by 23 points and then to the Washington Wizards at home by three.

Both rough losses, but they can take solace that the blowout loss came without Kobe Bryant.

Most important for the Lakers at this point is that they avoid getting into a kind of wax-and-wane situation in which they hit another prolonged losing patch. If that happens, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.

Realistically, the most important thing to look at is the remaining games on the schedule.

Los Angeles has six of its final 12 games on the road, with seven total games against current playoff teams.

Dallas has just five road games over its final 12 and, like the Lakers, plays seven games against current playoff teams.

If there's one game on each team's calendar that needs to be circled, it's April 2, when they play against each other.

The Lakers will host Dallas with just a handful of games left in the season. With the Lakers holding a 2-1 advantage over the Mavericks on the season, it gives the Lakers a chance to not only put a game between themselves and the Mavs, but also earn the tiebreaker should they end up with the same record.

Realistically, yes, L.A. should worry about Dallas. The Mavs have peaked at the right time, and they're playing solid basketball.

It's more important, however, that the Lakers worry about themselves first and the teams around them second.