With only 17 games remaining, the Dallas Mavericks are hopeful that there are still enough games left for them to put together a run and squeeze into the playoffs.
Of course, if the Mavs run the table and win all 17 games, there are enough games. That’s unlikely to happen, but the Mavs continue to be upbeat going into their game at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at American Airlines Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“There’s always enough games until you’re mathematically eliminated, and there’s a bunch of teams above us who aren’t playing very well,” owner Mark Cuban said. “You just hope that a couple of guys keep on falling. Stranger things have happened.”
Only eight teams will represent the Western Conference in the playoffs. The Mavs (31-34) are in 10th place, the Utah Jazz (33-32) is in ninth place, and the Los Angeles Lakers (35-32) occupy the eighth and final playoff spot.
Starting with Friday’s 96-86 win over Cleveland, the Mavs are in a stretch where they’re playing eight of nine games at home. If they can just win all of those home games, the Mavs will enhance their postseason chances mightily.
“It’s a big stretch for us,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s obvious where we’re at; we need every win. I don’t know what win number would get us to the playoffs. But this is an opportunity for us, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Since bottoming out at 13-23 following a 99-93 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 9, the Mavs are a respectable 18-11, including 7-6 on the road. Before that, the Mavs were just 6-16 on the road while hitting every speed bump imaginable.
“We’re getting a lot better,” Cuban said. “We’re starting to see groups that work together, and that’s a huge positive. Guys understand their roles a little bit more, and there’s a much better vibe.”
Whether that vibe can carry the Mavs to their 13th consecutive appearance in the playoffs, there’s certainly no shortage of positive talk in and outside the team’s locker room.
“We’ve just got to keep on winning,” Cuban said. “We’ve got some tough games ahead, and if we can win some of those we’ll gain even more confidence.”
With leading rebounder Shawn Marion out indefinitely with a strained left calf, the Mavs are in desperate need of more help on the boards.
And they’ve gotten it from forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has averaged 9.8 rebounds in the last five games Marion has missed.
Besides the five-game stretch from Feb. 13-26 when he averaged 11.4 rebounds, this is the best five-game stretch of rebounding for Nowitzki this season.
In all, Nowitzki has picked up 11 rebounds in each of the past three games.
“He’s stepped it up,” Rick Carlisle said. “He knows what we’re up against. If he can [average 11 rebounds] the rest of the year, it’ll really help us.”
Wright on a roll
One player who has emerged lately as a major contributor for the Mavs is center Brandan Wright.
Over the past seven games, Wright has averaged 11.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per contest. He also has 11 blocks during that span while shooting a whopping 67.9 percent (38 of 56) from the field.
“He’s had a terrific run here,” Rick Carlisle said. “The thing with him is I’ve just got to make sure we’re playing him in the right spurts of minutes and he doesn’t get too gassed.”
Wright gets a lot of playing time when the opponent puts a quicker center on the court.
“I’m just trying to do my job and help this team win some games and get into the playoffs,” Wright said. “We’re going to need all our centers and all of our players to do what we need to do in order to reach the playoffs.”