Call them cocky or confident. But the Dallas Mavericks actually think they can win a seven-game playoff series against the vaunted Golden State Warriors.
Those thoughts became crystal clear to the Mavs as they went toe-to-toe with the Warriors all the way to the edge Friday night, before they fell off the cliff and lost a 128-120 decision at Oracle Arena.
I think we can — we can definitely beat them. They’re definitely beatable.
Mavericks reserve forward Charlie Villanueva
The loss dropped the Mavs (35-37) to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and put them a massive 30 games behind the No. 1-seed Warriors (65-7). But if the season ended today, the Mavs and Warriors would meet in a first-round best-of-seven series.
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And the Mavs said not to assume the Warriors are a virtual lock to claim that series.
“I think we can — we can definitely beat them,” forward Charlie Villanueva said. “They’re definitely beatable.
“It’s going to be a possible matchup.’’
The Mavs have their own history to prove that it’s not etched in stone that an overly powerful No. 1 seed will automatically defeat an unheralded No. 8-seed in the playoffs.
In 2007, the Mavs had the NBA’s best record at 67-15 and went into the postseason as the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed. They were upset in six games in the first round by the No. 8-seeded Warriors, who at the time were coached by former Mavs coach Don Nelson.
A hole remains in the wall across from the visitors’ locker room at Oracle Arena as a not-so-subtle reminder of that devastating defeat. The hole came as a result of a trash can forward Dirk Nowitzki tossed out of frustration after that series unceremoniously ended.
But that was nine years ago. And despite the large gap between the two teams’ won-loss records, the Mavs know any series against Golden State puts the pressure squarely on the defending NBA champions.
We definitely proved we can play with them and we proved we can beat them. It’s just one of those things where seven games, it’s going to be tough.
Mavericks guard Raymond Felton
“We definitely proved we can play with them and we proved we can beat them,’’ guard Raymond Felton said. “It’s just one of those things where seven games, it’s going to be tough.
“It’s tough to beat anybody seven games, like it’ll be tough to beat us every single game. If that happens that we play them in the first round, then it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.’’
Overall, the Mavs are one of just seven teams to defeat the Warriors this season. Dallas won on its home court, 114-91, on Dec. 30 in a game Warriors superstar Stephen Curry missed due to an injury.
But the Warriors defeated the Mavs in Oakland, 127-107, on Jan. 27, and also beat them in Dallas, 130-112, on March 18, in addition to winning on Friday.
“We beat them once and we played them tough twice,’’ shooting guard Wesley Matthews said. “Obviously it’s going to be tough, regardless.
“Any matchup is going to be tough in the playoffs. But it’s a different season when the playoffs happen.’’
Despite all the talk about winning a playoff series against the Warriors, the Mavs would obviously like to move up in the standings and avoid Golden State for as long as possible. Dallas is currently just a game-and-a-half away from catching No. 6-seeded Portland, who they own the tiebreaker over.
But the Mavs also have to fend off the Utah Jazz, who are also 35-37. The Jazz-Mavs series is tied 1-1 with one game remaining — April 11 in Utah.
Thus, the Mavs have to first qualify for the playoffs before thinking about who they can beat in any seven-game series.
“It’s important to get to the playoffs,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s one of the things that’s important in this league is to make the postseason.
“We’ve got to work to get there, and then once we get there we’ll prepare for whoever it is.”
And if it’s the Warriors, the Mavs know Friday night they were within 120-116 of Golden State on the road with 1:08 remaining in the game played in the toughest arena in the NBA. A game where the Mavs played without Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Deron Williams and Devin Harris.
“Everybody stepped up, everybody played good, everybody got better,” guard J.J. Barea said. “We never quit, we were right there against the best team in the league.
“So it says a lot about our team and about our guys.”
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m.on dfwiradio.com