If All Goes Well Tonight, The Mavericks Will Finally Get to Ditch Those Beards of Theirs.

Sharpen those razors, gentlemen.

It looks like the Mavericks will reach the elusive .500 mark after all.

Nothing is certain, of course. But Dallas will be hosting the Phoenix Suns at the American Airlines Center on Wednesday night and all signs point to a victory.

Phoenix comes stumbling into Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back after playing the Rockets in Houston on Tuesday night. That alone means that the players will be tired from playing and travel.

Dallas, on the other hand, has had two full days off since Sunday's win against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Still, while the Mavericks are seemingly poised to shave, their effort late against the Blazers brings up the same, lingering questions about consistency and drive that have circled this team like buzzards since this season was still in its infancy.

In Portland, Dallas built a 24-point lead at the end of the first half. Late in the third quarter, they'd extended that lead to 26 points. The game was theirs. It was simply a matter of continuing to execute and waiting for the final buzzer.

The team was playing well. Great, really.

Chris Kaman was dominant, especially early on. He was able to score at will against Portland’s much-maligned front court en route to his third double-double of the season, registering 26 points and 11 rebounds. He probably took too many shots — he attempted 21 field goals over the course of the game — but he did make 12 of them. And it was nice seeing Kaman dust off some of his better post moves. He does, in fact, have quite the arsenal when he works from the block.

Shawn Marion too played well, scoring 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

And yet Dallas was unable to maintain their lead as the game progressed into the fourth quarter. A flurry of buckets from Trail Blazers rookies Will Barton and Damien Lillard spearheaded a furious comeback attempt and bringing back nightmares of Brandon Roy’s Game 4 heroics in the 2011 playoffs against the Mavericks.

The end result would be different this time, though. In the end, the Mavericks would hang on for a 96-91 victory on Sunday.

But, troubling as Dallas' play was to close the game, there was a larger concern: Dirk Nowitzki was on the bench for the entirety of the fourth quarter as the Blazers closed the gap and made the game more competitive than it should have been.

After the game, it was announced that head coach Rick Carlisle had kept Nowitzki out due to a sore left ankle that resulted from the seven-foot German landing awkwardly after going for a rebound.

Nowitzki stated after the game that he has every intention of tonight, though. And, at the time of this writing, we've heard no news to the contrary.

This, of course, is good news. The Mavericks will need their best player on the court to avoid any potential letdown against the Suns.

Phoenix sits at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. They are a sad bunch, unable to string together much success. Recently, Luis Scola, one of the team's better players, openly criticized the Suns' effort. To be fair, he has every reason to be disappointed. This is a team that has entirely embraced tanking. Many of Phoenix's losses have been lopsided affairs. A glance at their record from March 1 until now is not exactly inspiring.

During Phoenix's recent woes, head coach Lindsey Hunter, who replaced Alvin Gentry earlier in the season, has sat Goran Dragic on multiple occasions. Dragic is the Suns' best player. He hasn't been hurt. Why does he need rest this late in the season as the Suns try to at least stay competitive? He doesn't. This is, simply enough, a not-so-subtle tanking measure. But, since tanking is widely frowned upon by the league, Hunter must say that he is “resting” Dragic so as to not incur a response from the NBA and commissioner David Stern.

It’s not necessarily a bad strategy, though. Phoenix has nothing to play for except pride at this point. Pride, however, can actually hurt the long-term future of a team in certain cases. The Suns are throwing games in the hopes of increasing their odds of getting one of the top lottery picks.

Some, this writer included, have suggested that the Mavericks should've similarly tanked their season as soon as it appeared lost. The Mavericks never bought into that idea. Instead, in the face of their shortcomings, they've battled to get to the position they are in — one in which they still have a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, even if it's just a paltry 1.4 percent chance.

Still, the beards have to come off at some point, even if the progression of Nowitzki's beard has been a sight to behold. And Wednesday night is the best chance that the Mavericks will have to reach their modest goal of attaining a .500 record.

Another let down at this point in the season won't be surprising, though. It will merely be indicative of the difficulties this team has faced, most of which are self imposed, all season.

But, even so, Phoenix just isn't in the market of winning games at this point. Hopefully, the Mavericks know this and capitalize on it.

If they do, they should be bare-chinned come Thursday morning.

Here's hoping, for their own sake, that happens. Otherwise this season will have very much been a wash.

Cover photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.

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