A win can help Mavs push L.A. fadeaway

DALLAS -- Rick Carlisle is one of the great downplayers in this league.

Take Thursday night after the Dallas Mavericks throttled the New York Knicks and the coach was asked if calling his team "soft" the night before at New Orleans got his troops a little riled up. I'm confident Carlisle understood what how the "soft" label is taken in that locker room.

"You guys," Carlisle said, "are making it a much bigger deal out of it then our players are," Carlisle said.

Ah yes, the media's always stirring it up. Well, thanks to Carlisle for dropping the S-bomb, unprompted, to the media to give his team a kick in the rear through the media.

But, when the media hypes Saturday night's showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers at the American Airlines Center, Carlisle is buying it. It is actually somewhat humorous that most of the players blew off the matchup as just another game that counts in the standings and that despite just 17 games remaining it is still too early to look ahead to that semifinal series shaping up.

Carlisle, however, was right on point.

"It's the defending champs coming into your building, so it's a big deal," Carlisle said. "To try to downplay it wouldn't be being honest. It's an important game."

Most important to the Mavs' postseason cause is maintaining their grip on the No. 2 seed. Dallas and L.A. are too far behind the San Antonio Spurs -- barring an injury or some strange collapse -- to make a run at the No. 1 seed. Fourth-place Oklahoma City Thunder is too far behind to make a move second and third and, frankly, better keep looking behind them at the Portland Trail Blazers.

So, one way or another the Mavs (47-18) and Lakers (46-20) are on a collision course for a semifinal series. The No. 2 seed will hold homecourt advantage, and in a seven-game series against Kobe Bryant the two-time champs, that would seem an imperative for the Mavs. With a win Saturday, Dallas can go up by three in the loss column with one more head-to-head in L.A. on March 31. That would make for a tough climb for the Lakers considering the frequency with which both teams are winning.

Not that the players are thinking that far ahead.

"We've got o finish these [17] games out and go from there," You can't worry about if you're 2 or 3. We were 2 last year and we were out early. Seeding goes out the window once the next season starts. You've got to win on the road at some point anyway to win a championship. We've just got to focus and not look ahead."

At least Carlisle, who led his first two teams -- Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals -- has an eye on the big picture if he expects to take his first Western Conference team to the finals.

And, in this case, seeding matters.