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NBA Preview: Pelicans aim for season-high win streak against hapless Mavericks

New Orleans faces the worst team in the West at home with a chance to make it four straight wins.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For far too long, whenever the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans got together on the basketball court, the Mavericks were the Pelicans’ older brother putting New Orleans in a headlock and giving them noogies.

Dallas and New Orleans have played 56 regular season games and Dallas owns a 39-17 edge. More often than not, Dallas was the playoff contender and New Orleans was the lottery bound scrubs and that’s just how it’s been since the Pelicans switched to West in 2004.

That’s all changed this year.

The Pelicans are winners of three straight, averaging a 15-point margin of victory over the stretch. At 18-16, the Pelicans are, at the moment, comfortably seated at the grown up’s table that is the Western Conference playoff seeding. The Mavericks, however, have fallen into a hole that they seem very unlikely to climb out of.

Dallas is 11-25, sitting dead last in the West and are ahead of only Atlanta in terms of wins. The Mavericks have been playing better basketball lately, winners of two in a row and three of their past five; those three victories were against the Raptors, Pacers and Pistons — all playoff-aspiring teams.

And New Orleans just so happens to be a team hoping to make the playoffs.

Are you getting what I’m saying? New Orleans can’t dismiss the Mavs because of their record. This is an opponent that’s traditionally owned the Pelicans, and if New Orleans doesn’t play up to their potential, chances are they’ll get popped.

All that being said, the Mavericks are not a good team by any stretch of the imagination, and that 11-25 record was earned, not given. The Mavericks have this conflicting strategy of “not scoring points” and “allowing teams to score a lot of points.” This gameplan mirrors New Orleans’, but the Pelicans at least score almost as much as they allow. But the Mavericks are 27th in points scored and ninth in points allowed, and folks that’s how you end up being 14 games under.

When you think Dallas Mavericks, you think Dirk Nowitzki, and Dirk, sadly, looks every bit of 39. Nowitzki’s scoring, rebounding and minutes are the lowest since his rookie season dating way back in 1998. His shot attempts are also trending the wrong way, but in classic Dirk fashion, he’s knocking them down in an efficient manner. He’s even shooting a current career-best 42.4 percent from three.

As the Dirk era fades away, Harrison Barnes is emerging as the man in Dallas. Barnes is leading the Mavericks in points and rebounds. Dallas’ prized rookie Dennis Smith Jr. is scoring a respectable 13 points a game, but his shooting percentages, 38 percent from the floor, 30 from three and a concerning 66 percent from the free throw line, are a tad bit unspectacular. But the organization and head coach Rick Carlisle are giving Smith every opportunity to gain experience on the court, Smith’s played in and started 28 games this year, averaging about 27 minutes a night.

In one of the more manageable stretches of their schedule, New Orleans has taken care of their business. Maybe they’re allowing a few too many points defensively, but the offense is playing about as well as anyone in the league. You heard Rajon Rondo had 25 assists against the Nets? It could take an effort like that to push this winning streak to new heights.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Dallas Mavericks

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: December 29, 2017, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM