One final home game.
Four gut-check quarters.
Forty-eight physical minutes of stress.
That’s what this marathon of an NBA season has come down to for the Dallas Mavericks.
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If the Mavs (48-32) can find a way to win Saturday night’s showdown against the Phoenix Suns, they’ll clinch a playoff spot after failing to qualify last season.
Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center.
The Mavericks own the primary tiebreaker over both the Suns (47-32) and the Memphis Grizzlies (47-32).
The Mavs are 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season, and if they beat Phoenix, they would win that season series 2-1.
Even if the Grizzlies win their remaining four games, the best they can do is 50-32.
That would include wins over the Suns on Monday —making Phoenix only capable of finishing 49-33 — and against the Mavs on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, if the Suns lose to the Mavericks, then win their final two games against Memphis and Sacramento, the best record they could have is 50-32.
That would leave the Grizzlies in position to finish with a record no better than 49-33, which is the best the Mavs could do if they beat the Suns and lose at Memphis.
In other words, the Mavs will have an immediate reward if they rebound from Thursday’s 109-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs and beat the Suns.
That thought had coach Rick Carlisle analyzing the impact of the game against Phoenix, which lost at San Antonio on Friday to fall into a tie with Memphis a half-game behind the Mavericks.
“I just want to make sure there’s no misunderstanding about what this next game is about,” Carlisle said Friday. “It’s about the team that plays with the most attitude and the stronger physical disposition; that’s the biggest thing.
“Beyond that, strategies have got to be there, we’ve got to have good schemes and stuff like that. But we can’t come out like we did [Thursday night] to start the game and to start the third quarter and get our butts handed to us. That’s not going to get it.”
Carlisle doesn’t mind how the NBA schedule has the Mavs, Suns and Grizzlies mired in a round-robin situation with only two of the teams guaranteed to make the playoffs.
“From a competitive standpoint it doesn’t get any better than this,” Carlisle said. “We took a kicking [Thursday night] and we’ve got to respond to how poorly we played.”
Carlisle drew similarities between the Spurs and Suns, with an additional nugget that should concern the Mavs.
“The Suns, you can argue, they’re a more physical team [than the Spurs] and in some ways even more athletic,” he said. “So, hey, that’s what it’s about is being able to bounce back from a bad night, and you’ve got to make it a good night, and that’s what our goal is going to be.”
Even if the Mavs lose to the Suns, they’ll still be in position to make the playoffs if they can win in Memphis on Wednesday.
But the Mavs don’t care about making this a winner-take-all situation with the Grizzlies.
“We’ll leave it all out there and hopefully get a little smarter and get to some of those loose balls and just let it all hang out,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “Phoenix is a tough team.
“We lost one, won one [against the Suns], so the tiebreaker is on the line as well. If we can get a little better start — we were a little slow [against the Spurs] — set a better tone, and it’ll be a hard-fought game.”
A hard-fought game the Mavs know they can ill afford to lose.
“We’ve got to do a great job of protecting our home court, which we didn’t do [Thursday night] and frankly it was very disappointing,” Carlisle said. “But it’s another day, and the great thing about this league is there’s usually another game coming.
“Right now we’ve got two more games coming and we want to play more. So the motivation is there.”
Especially for Saturday night’s game.