With a disappointing eight-game homestand behind them, the Dallas Mavericks face the possibility of having to win five or six of their remaining seven games just to avoid missing out on the playoffs for a second straight season.
The beginning of that long and complex journey for the Mavs (44-31) starts at 9:30 p.m. Thursday when they face the Los Angeles Clippers (53-22) at the Staples Center.
The Mavs lost control of their playoff outcome by going 4-4 on the homestand that ended Tuesday and included three losses in overtime.
Of course, the Mavs could get some help from other teams who are playing Memphis and Phoenix, the teams competing with Dallas for the last two Western Conference playoff spots.
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But that’s not something the Mavs want to bank on.
“We’ve got to win the games that we have,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “We don’t want to put it on everybody else and say this guy has to lose and this thing has to happen.”
What happened Tuesday against Golden State is doubly disheartening to the Mavs. With the score tied 120-120 in overtime, Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal caught a driving shot by Monta Ellis in midair with 16 seconds left, and then Golden State’s Stephen Curry drilled a game-winner jumper with 0.1 seconds left.
On Wednesday, the NBA announced that O’Neal should have been whistled for goaltending on Ellis’ shot. But that’s the type of luck the Mavs have had lately.
“We want to win those close games,” Nowitzki said. “It’s been tough, but hopefully we’ll be better.
“Out of those [seven remaining games] there probably will be seven close ones. And hopefully we won’t make those mistakes again and execute a little better and get big stops.”
Here’s a rundown of the Mavs’ remaining seven games:
Thursday @ LA Clippers: The Mavs are 0-3 against the Clippers this season and have had difficulties keeping up with the Clippers’ chippy style of play. Point guard Chris Paul appears to get whatever he wants whenever he wants it against the Mavs. That has to stop for the Mavs to avoid being swept in the season series.
Friday @ LA Lakers: At least the Mavs have capitalized on not having to face Kobe Bryant this season for the first time since he entered the NBA in 1996. The Mavs are 2-0 against the Lakers, with both wins — 123-104 and 110-97 — coming at American Airlines Center. On the second night of a back-to-back, this game could be trouble.
Sunday @ Sacramento: The record says the Mavs are 2-1 against the Kings this season, but they could very well be 0-3. Even in their two victories over Sacramento in Dallas, the Mavs had to dig deep to just come out on top, 107-103 and 103-100. The Kings are extremely talented at every position and they pose a major threat, despite their record.
Tuesday @ Utah: In what is a down year for Utah, the Mavs have done what they were supposed to do. The Mavs are 3-0 against the Jazz, but their most recent victory last month in Utah was only by a 108-101 margin. Wild and crazy things seem to happen to the Mavs in Utah, but they expect to keep that to a minimum this time.
April 10 vs. San Antonio: The best team in the NBA is coming to American Airlines Center and the Mavs can only hope Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a soft heart and will decide to rest three or four of his starters. The Spurs are a horrible matchup for the Mavs, who are 0-3 against them. But there is hope, since the Spurs only won 112-106 the last time the two met.
April 12 vs. Phoenix: All season long folks have been predicting the demise of the Suns. Well, the Suns haven’t gone anywhere and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. The Mavs are 1-1 against the Suns this season, and both games were played in Phoenix. The winner of this game could be the team that clinches a playoff spot via the tiebreaker.
April 16 @ Memphis: From the Mavs’ perspective, the best thing about ending the regular season in Memphis is that they’ll have three days’ rest before playing this game. And the Mavs are 2-0 this season — not counting the All-Star break — in games with three days’ rest. The Mavs also are a perfect 3-0 against Memphis this season.