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Mavs make a move!

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Are Mavs now Lakers’ main threat?

Don’t look now, but the streaking Dallas Mavericks are second in the West entering play Tuesday thanks to an impressive eight-game winning streak (5-2-1 ATS; with seven of the eight wins over playoff contenders), and it appears that Dallas has passed the Denver Nuggets both literally and figuratively as the top threat to the L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference.

The trade of Josh Howard to Washington for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson has completely changed the Mavericks. Butler is a better player than Howard on both ends of the floor, while Haywood has more than helped fill the void when center Erick Dampier went down with an injury. Stevenson hasn’t done much (he’s OK on defense) but he wasn’t awful filling in for Butler for a few games when Butler had a bad reaction to medication.

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The pre-trade Mavs depended largely on Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry to have big scoring games – and they still are scoring. But Butler's midrange game and his ability to drive, and Haywood's ability to catch and finish have basically added areas on the floor from which the Mavs can score from. It sure has opened things up for point guard Jason Kidd, who has turned back the clock of late. The 36-year-old is really benefiting from the extra weapons and is averaging 14.8 points, 11.2 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals over his last five games. Nowitzki, meanwhile, just had a streak of 30 points or more for three straight games for the first time since February 2008 (he had “only” 27 on Monday to go with 13 rebounds) and was named Western Conference Player of the Week.

Dallas rallied from a 12-point third-quarter deficit to win in Charlotte on Monday for its 20th road victory, which leads the Western Conference (by comparison, Denver is 14-16 away from home). If you can win on the road, you can win the NBA title. And that win can’t be understated because the Mavs didn’t get into Charlotte until about 4 a.m. Monday after a big home win over the Hornets the night before. It was one of those back-to-backs that can catch any team.

And don’t forget that the Mavs beat the Lakers last week in Big D when Butler was out. Dallas the L.A. finished the season series 2-2 if you are looking toward the West Finals.

Because Mark Cuban is never satisfied, he was hoping to load up the roster even more with former Cavs center Zyrdunas Ilgauskas, but Cuban has pretty much been told by the Ilgauskas camp that he is heading back to Cleveland. With Dampier not far from returning, the Mavs say they will stand pat now.

Is Dallas perfect? The Mavs really never blow anyone out and their +2.2 point differential is the lowest of any current West playoff team. But they are also an outstanding 15-5 in contests decided by five points or fewer and have a league-leading 16 wins when trailing at halftime.

This winning streak could get well into double digits. Dallas will certainly be big favorites Wednesday vs. Minnesota and Friday vs. Sacramento. The Mavs might be slight favorites in Chicago on Saturday if the Bulls’ Joakim Noah is out, as expected. And then they have the Timberwolves again (on the road), Knicks and Bulls again (in Dallas) before a potential big game with Boston next Saturday. Now is the time for Dallas to really put some distance between itself and Denver – those two meet for the final time of the regular season on March 29.

  
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