Dallas Mavericks

Challenge intensifies as Mavericks make playoff push

With only 21 games remaining in the regular season, the Dallas Mavericks need to start stringing a few wins together.

If not, they might find themselves taking another early vacation and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The Golden State Warriors (36-24) are in sixth place in the Western Conference, followed by the Phoenix Suns (35-24) and Mavs (36-25). However, the Mavs are in a precarious position because they are tied in the loss column with the Memphis Grizzlies (34-25) for the eighth and final playoff spot.

With 13 of the Mavs’ final 21 games against teams that are .500 or better, forward Dirk Nowitzki realizes the urgency involved.

“We’ve got a tough stretch here going towards the end of the season and we’ve got to win some games,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got to beat some teams to even make it in [the playoffs].

“Memphis is going to make a push. All season long you figured Phoenix would, at some point, crumble. But they play hard, they’re well-coached, they play together, so it looks like we’ve got to keep winning at a high clip.”

The Mavs will drag a two-game losing streak into Wednesday’s game in Denver after losing Friday at home to Chicago and Sunday in San Antonio. Forward Vince Carter, however, believes they find enough consistency to make the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

“At this point in the game where you’re fighting for [playoff] position, you can’t worry about the opponent,” Carter said. “We’ve come so far; we’re playing a lot better basketball.

“I think we’re still a confident basketball team. We have to just focus on the next game, the next task, each quarter at a time and it’ll all take care of itself.”

Nowitzki said the schedule should play to the Mavericks’ advantage with some of the stronger opponents at home, including Indiana, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

“The good thing is if you look at our schedule a lot of those tough teams that we’ve got are home games, and some of the lesser teams are on the road, so hopefully it’s going to help us,” Nowitzki said.

Carter described Sunday’s 112-106 loss to the Spurs as “playoff basketball.” He also noted that it’s the time of the year for the Mavs to start handling their business.

“This is what it’s going to be like, so we have to learn how to win games like this,” Carter said. “It’s a tough lesson to learn ... particularly when you’re playing for a spot.

“We have a veteran club, we’ve just got to get it done. It’s easy to sit here and talk about it and rah-rah about what needs to be done, but you’ve got to get it done on the court and I think we know that.”

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